For Sacramento-Area Seniors, Saving Medicare is a Life-or-Death Matter


Posted on 30 July 2011

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By Rebecca Band
California Labor Federation

It’s tough to decipher political rhetoric from reality, especially when it comes to the Medicare debate. But for seniors who rely on Medicare as a lifeline, the concerns about GOP proposals to drastically reduce or eliminate the program are crystal clear.

“Will I be able to find health insurance? I’m 71 years old!”

“How can Medicare be considered an ‘entitlement’ when I paid into it all my working career?”

“Will my wife and I receive a refund of the money we have put into Medicare?”

These are just a few of the tough questions voiced by Sacramento-area seniors at Thursday’s community town hall in Rancho Cordova, in Republican Rep. Dan Lungren’s district. More than 200 seniors, worried about the GOP Medicare-killing proposals being debated in Congress, came out to make their voice heard and seek answers to their burning questions.

For these and countless other seniors who rely on Medicare for their life-saving medical treatments, the GOP’s plot to essentially do away with the Medicare program isn’t just a political ploy -- it’s a life-or-death situation. Seniors know full well they’ll never be able to get private insurance, which means they’ll either go bankrupt in order to pay for medical expenses out-of-pocket, or forego the costly treatments and risk losing their lives – or both.

Larry McConnell, a retired letter carrier from Sacramento, shared his personal story:

A year ago I was diagnosed with a blood-born cancer, and Medicare is the primary way that I pay for my treatments. Two out of every 3 weeks I have to go in for treatment, and it’s over $5000 each session. Not to mention doctor’s visits, hospital stays -- I’ve already been in the hospital twice already this year, and both bills were more than $20,000… the doctors say If I keep getting treatment I can live a long time, but if it gets to the point where Medicare isn’t paying, I just don’t know … I’m 69 years old; do you think there’s an insurance company that would take someone like me? Am I going to have to go bankrupt just to pay my medical bills?

Larry’s not alone – bankruptcy is a serious concern for many seniors who are faced with crushing medical bills, and whose only savior is the Medicare program. According to an analysis from the House Committee on Energy and Commerce, Rep. Paul Ryan’s budget plan passed by House Republicans in April would force Larry and the 39,700 seniors in the Sacramento region to pay an extra $390 million over the next decade just for prescription drugs alone.

And seniors aren’t the only ones affected. Gutting Medicare would also increase out-of-pocket costs for 579,000 Sacramento-area residents age 44-54 by almost $12,000 per year over the next 20 years. And each individual would have to save an additional $180,000-$287,000 just to pay for the increased cost of health coverage over their lifetimes.

At the town hall, the experts addressed many of the questions and helped to clarify some of the complexities and misinformation circulating around the Medicare debate. Anthony Wright, executive director of Health Access, pointed out the real root of the problem:

People keep saying there’s a “crisis” in Medicare and Medicaid – but in fact these programs are the most efficient and effective ways of getting care to people. They provide more care to more people at a lower cost than the private sector. It’s the rising cost of health care in general that’s the “crisis”. We don’t have a Medicare or Medicaid problem, we have a heath care problem. The Affordable Care Act was our most far-reaching attempt to confront the reasons for rising health care costs… Yet the Ryan budget would repeal health reform and its cost control provisions, and instead dismantle Medicare and Medicare. The Ryan budget doesn’t control costs—it simply shifts costs, from the federal government to seniors, to families, to states. Rather than protect us from rising health costs, it would shift the burden onto us.

Seniors left the town hall energized and ready to hold elected officials like Lungren accountable for their votes. Seniors who depend on Medicare aren’t about to forget those politicians who are playing political games with a program that, in many cases, is saving their life. As the town hall came to a close, Margie Metzler of Older Women’s League urged the seniors to spread the word whenever they can:

When you’re standing in line at the grocery store and you here a young person say “Medicare will never be there for me,” tell them, “It’ll be there for you if you fight for it!”

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Rebecca Greenberg Band works with the California Labor Federation.