Stay Informed

Find a Chapter

Medicare: A Safety Net for All of Us (Not Just Senior Citizens)

Mitt Romney’s selection of Congressman Paul Ryan for Vice President should make every young American question their future security. Medicare and Social Security will become an integral part of our own financial safety net and shouldn’t be just talking points for seniors.

Labeling these programs as entitlement programs is a misnomer. Since our first days as a waitress, movie theatre worker, retail store clerk or any other first day of paid work, we have been paying into Social Security and Medicare. In fact, we all get annual statements on the exact amount of money we have paid into Social Security, projecting our future benefits once once we become eligible.

To better understand why we all need to care about the health of Medicare, I will share my family’s story.

Monday, November 2, 2009 started as just another Monday. Being the day before the big Seattle Mayoral Election Day was as special as it got. I made my regular stop at Starbucks and as I was walking out to the street, I got a call from my mother that changed everything.

The neurologist had just diagnosed my father with Frontotemporal Dementia (FTD). It was just 11 days before his 53rd birthday but my father’s brain MRI looked like someone in his late 80s to early 90s. There were even areas of my father’s brain that had no neural tissue at all. Thankfully, my family was not subjected to years of misdiagnosis as the result of the rarity of FTD.

FTD degenerates neural tissue much like Alzheimer’s but rather than affecting the memory areas of the brain it affects executive functions (social skills, personality, ability to understand consequences, ability to process emotions, etc).  Basically, my father will always remember I am his daughter, but he will lose the ability to love me as his daughter.

Few specifics have been released from the Romney/Ryan campaign but one thing is clear – Medicare would become a voucher program and allow an individual to find their own insurance plan.  Sounds great except for the fact that Medicare is guaranteed coverage – no health exams required to determine if someone is insurable you just pay a small monthly premium and you’re covered.

Under the Romney-Ryan plan, my father is too young to have access to the current system, he’d be given a voucher to go purchase his own insurance. Problem is, there wouldn’t be any insurance in the world that would find my father insurable. Without insurance, the cost of his health care and prescriptions would be enough to bankrupt my family. Even if we were lucky enough to find a company willing to provide coverage, it would be so expensive that it wouldn’t be fully covered by the Romney voucher and any cost above the voucher value would need to be paid for by my family.

For over 30 years, my father was a UAW laborer at Caterpillar. Shortly after his diagnosis he was able to retire with a pension and qualified for the retiree health insurance and prescription plan with a monthly premium through Caterpillar. He also had invested significantly in his 401k plan.

Soon after his diagnosis my father needed to have someone to help care for him, and recently our family decided it was best to place him in a full time care facility. However, that care costs roughly $5,000 per month and isn’t covered by any insurance. There isn’t a cure for FTD but there are medications that my father can take that his physicians hope slow the progression.  Without insurance these medications, even the generics, would cost nearly $1,000 per month.

Even with all his financial planning for retirement there was still a great deal of waiting. Social Security Disability had a 6-month waiting period, even though the progression of the disease doesn’t wait. In addition, since my father is under 65, there is a 2-year waiting period to be eligible for Medicare and because both my parents are union workers with family wage jobs the household income was too much to qualify for Medicaid.

Thankfully, because of the current safety net of Social Security and Medicare combined with my father’s retiree benefits and his 401k, my family can, for the moment, afford to give him top-notch care.

Our future healthcare should provide for all of us to have high quality care at the lowest cost possible.

President Obama’s work to pass the Affordable Care Act to reform the healthcare industry allows all families the opportunity to choose quality health care and those that need the help of the social safety net have it.

Mitt Romney’s plan would force many families – including my own – to pick the care for our loved ones based on costs not quality. That’s not a choice any hardworking American family should be forced to make.

Pundits and even the candidates themselves are calling this election a ‘Choice Election’. This isn’t a difficult choice for me. Supporting President Obama means my family can choose the best possible care. Supporting Mitt Romney means my family would face serious financial trouble to provide even basic care.

Kelly Drake lives in Seattle, WA, and has a graduate degree in Public Health.  She currently serves as YDA National Convention & Meetings Director.