Saturday, August 16, 2008

Mary Pitt: "The Ed McMahon Example"

The Ed McMahon Example
Mary Pitt

This morning, August 18th, the news was blaring from CNN and MSNBC: Donald Trump Bails Out Ed McMahon! The story that followed told us that poor ole Ed had fallen ill, was having a hard time financially and was in danger of losing his home. Now, I do not lack for sympathy for this poor man who had such an illustrious and munificent career and who can, even now, be seen on commercial television hawking insurance for oldsters so that they will not be devastated by one of the lingering illnesses that we oldster are prone to develop.

However, can we broaden our view a bit to take in the larger scene? It is all well for a "somebody" to have a friend like Mr. Trump who is able and will ride to the rescue. But this country is full of "nobodies", (like yours truly), who suffer long illnesses in our old age, who are willing to work as much as prospective employers will allow, and whose homes and very lives depend on our fiscal savvy and our ability to scrimp to live within our limited inscome.

I am sure that most of us receive a stipend from Social Security and parts of our medical expenses are covered by Medicare just as, I am sure, are Mr. McMahon's. Please note that I said "parts" of our medical care. It is the other "parts" that throw us into crisis. Every new year calls for a new "deductible", an amount that we must pay out of pocket before Medicare pays a penny. Then we run into "co-payments", the twenty per cent of the medical bills that Medicare considers necessary. Medicare also sets limits on the length of allowed hospital stays based on the illness or accident that sends us there, This means that, if we are not sufficiently recovered within that time period, we must be booted out anyway, usually through accessing "rehabilitation" or nursing home care. This, of course, is not covered by Medicare.

In that event, one must apply for Medicaid for assistance. This means that we must be qualified for welfare. Our home may be exempt so long as there is any hope that we can someday return there to live. However, there is a limit on the value of the home that can be exempted. Any other income must also be declared and proven, meaning that any pension must also be paid to the nursing home as it comes in, savings must all be spent for the needed care, saving only a small amount which your state believes will pay for cremation and a very modest funeral. Any real property other than your residence, i.e. a rental house, a fishing cabin, or a summer home, must be sold at appraised price and spent for the necessary care as well as that second car that you have left in the garage since the passing of your lifemate.

Now, all this paper work and real estate dealing will require active participation and you will be urged to name a "conservator" who will then become your keeper, able to sign legal papers for you, to transfer your property, and to determine where and how you spend the rest of your days. It will be the end of your treasured independence and you will have no choice but to spend your precious time in the midst of strangers, marching to the cranky orders and to walk or wheel yourself to the ordered place at the pre-determined time.

There will be no White Knight, no Donald Trump to ride to your rescue. You may have children but they have children and other expenses as they try assiduously to prepare for their own old age so they won't suffer as badly as you. There may be nice visits for a while and they may really care but life has a way of crowding out our better impulses and pushing things out of our minds. Be honest; we did it too.

It is wonderful to see one of our "heroes" rescued from being tossed onto the trash heap of time but those of us down here in the filthy trenches of humanity can only hope that this tearful story can be used to draw attention to the plights of too many of us and encourage people, particularly our politicians, to realize that the system is broken. The deductibles and co-payments were designed to discourage us from accessing the great boon that Medicare was meant to be. Sure, there is Medicare Supplement Insurance and many insurance companies will sell you a policy that will cost you a mere ten per cent or so of the amount you receive after Medicare Part B and Part D are deducted. But, again we have to weight the benefits of paying that premium or buying adequate food for a healthy diet.

With the election season upon us and a new President preparing to assume his duties, we have this one last chance to make a decision as to who will take the poor, the elderly, and the children of our nation into account and act on a determination to see that we have "health care, not sickness care".

The author is a very "with-it" old lady who aspires to bring a bit of truth, justice, and common sense to a nation that has lost touch with its humanity in the search for "societal perfection".

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