By V. Susan Hutchinson
I’m thinking of my friend Stella today. I was in the same grade school class in Chicago with her brother Emilio. Emilio passed away a decade ago from brain cancer and Stella is now fighting liver cancer. But cancer is not all she is battling. She does not have enough money to pay for the high cost of the hospital, doctors and treatments.
In one of the world’s wealthiest countries, people like Stella are having to find ways to pay the high cost of long-term medical care. Her husband Vince posted on Facebook yesterday that he is selling his collectible records and his guitars to help pay medical costs. Image if you had to sell off your prized possessions just to get money so your wife can continue medical treatments that will save her life. Or maybe you know someone who has already had to do this.
Appalling, isn’t it?
Vince has also set up a Facebook fundraising page to try to raise the money. After 2 months donations aren’t even close to what they need.
Every year millions of people find themselves far short of the money needed to pay the high cost of necessary medical care in the United States. Bankruptcy due to medical expenses affects not just people who are self or uninsured, but also those with insurance through an employer or who are on Medicare with an Advantage or Supplemental plan. Studies have shown that a large percentage of people who declare bankruptcy do so because the overwhelming cost of medical expenses is too much for them to bear, even if they have seemingly healthy retirement accounts.
Stella and I grew up in an age before IRA and 401(k) were available. Back then people stayed in the same job for most or all of their lives and if your employer had a pension plan you were lucky. Pensions were a good supplement to the expected Social Security and Medicare you thought you could count on when you retired. You also saved a little “for a rainy day”.
In 2020 it’s now a hurricane and millions of people, especially seniors, just don’t have enough.
Financial planners and calculators can estimate that today’s retirees need to have well over a million dollars in reserves, on top of what they get from Social Security. This advice comes too late for many who grew up thinking once the mortgage was paid off, they wouldn’t have to worry about anything except utilities and food during their sunset years. It’s especially hard to hear by those who had to scratch and scrape their whole lives just to feed and clothe their children.
Republicans Want to Make It Even Harder
When Donald Trump was running for president in 2016, he claimed he would not cut Medicare or Social Security. Now that he is in the White House and running for a second term, that old promise has gone by the wayside. And the Affordable Care Act (ACA) has been under attack by Republicans since it was implemented in 2010. Repeal and replace is now just repeal.
The ACA goes a long way toward helping millions of people get healthcare coverage for themselves and their families, but it is still provided by insurance companies and, just like employer-provided health insurance, premium costs are determined by the choice of annual deductibles and out of pocket maximums.
Consumers can lower their monthly premiums by choosing higher deductibles, which can be upwards of $10,000 or more. Out of pocket maximums usually add $2,000 or more annually. The out of pocket maximum is potentially what someone could pay when a medical catastrophe strikes. Long-term care that carries over into the next year doubles those out of pocket costs as deductibles start over every year.
Medicaid, which covers over 70 million people is also a target for this administration.
You can see why people like Stella struggle when they are faced with suddenly paying for medical care to just to stay alive. But staying alive shouldn’t be the only goal when you are sick. Everyone has the right to a quality of life where they don’t have to constantly worry if they can afford rent or to put food on the table because every penny went to pay off medical bills and there was nothing left.
Life should have some joy to it even if it’s just little things like holding on to cherished possessions that bring back fond memories.
What Can Be Done?
Everyone needs to demand our right to affordable healthcare. This is not just a Democratic issue; it is an American issue. Support the Democratic candidate you think can fix our broken system and stop the madness of out of control insurance companies, medical and prescription drug costs. Then lobby everyone you know to get out and vote so we can become a progressive nation on healthcare, not regressive.
And if you feel the need to pray, pray for Stella and the millions of people like her across America. Pray not just that they survive their life-threatening diseases, but also that they survive the financial burden that goes on for years after the disease has gone into remission.
If you are on Facebook and would like to contribute to Stella’s fundraiser, click here. As Vince says “every little bit will help”.