Setting the record straight on Medicare

Expanding Medicare services is a hotly debated topic in Congress right now, as Democrats try to reach an agreement on what parts of President Biden’s Build Back Better agenda can garner enough votes to ensure passage. There is a lot of misinformation flying about that suggests many people, even legislators, don’t understand what Medicare covers. Nancy Pelosi complained in a closed door meeting that she didn’t see why she should receive $1,000 to “get her teeth fixed” and this editorial in The Washington Post bemoaned the idea that Bill Gates might be able to get a free pair of eyeglasses. There is a push by centrist and elitist Democrats to focus on childcare and maybe throw elders a bone by allowing Medicare to negotiate prescription drug prices.

These dubious examples do nothing to address the genuine, dire circumstances that many elders in the middle class and lower middle class experience on a daily basis. I know because my parents experienced it and in turn, my finances were damaged as well. Many people assume Medicare is like Medicaid for those over 65 and covers most medical services. What a rude awakening it can be for a family caregiver to discover that this is definitely not the case. The realization hits particular hard for those people who are deemed to be “too wealthy” for Medicaid, which covers much more. The amount of out-of-pocket expenses for middle-class Medicare recipients can have a crippling impact on a family’s budget.

I’ve discussed on this blog how those with dementia endure significant expenses that Medicare doesn’t cover, including memory care and home health care visits. Middle class families cannot afford to pay several thousand dollars a month for memory care or home health care for very long, especially if they are sandwich caregivers also raising children at the same time.

There is a lot of pushback from dentists about expanding Medicare to cover dental services. So far, I’ve not heard a single dentist discount the importance of dental care for the elder population. It all comes down to them making less money. Issues like gum disease increases the risk of serious health issues. Being able to properly chew food can assist with digestion that slows down as one ages and also supports proper nutrition. If your mouth hurts, you are unlikely to eat properly and eat healthier food like raw fruit and vegetables.

Vision services are more than a pair of glasses. Vision care includes glaucoma screenings and maintaining adequate vision is essential to keep elders from falling or being involved in car accidents which can lead to lengthy hospital stays. Hearing is another important health marker. Loss of hearing has been associated with a higher risk of dementia. These are not optional or cosmetic services but essential preventative care that will keep our elder population healthier at home.

My mother spent thousands of dollars out of pocket for dental care over the years she was on Medicare. This was on top of the several thousand dollars we paid for my father’s memory care. We also paid out of pocket for medical transport services, which is covered by Medicaid, but not Medicare. We burned through my father’s modest savings and then my mother’s savings. I ran up tens of thousands of dollars in credit card debt that I just finally paid off last month, thanks to my ability to refinance my home. I know my family was fortunate in many ways, and that many people have it much worse.

I will always advocate for essential preventative medical care to be covered for elders. Those who mock the importance of such care are out of touch with what middle class and lower middle class families face when trying to manage the health needs of their elder loved ones. The excuses about lack of funds and leaving future generations with debt don’t hold water because when push comes to shove, average Americans make great sacrifices to take care of their loved ones. We do it because it’s the right thing to do, even when it destroys our future financial health and our children’s opportunities. It’s long overdue for the government to have the same level of commitment to its citizens.

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