Monday, May 18, 2009

The Cost of Health Care

The ARA (Alliance for Retired Americans) will focus on health care this Older Americans Month. OWL has advocated for single payer for decades. Why are people over 65 interested in single payer? Almost everywhere I go younger people seem to think it is only for altruistic reasons---once you reach 65 and get Medicare, you’ve got it made, so why should you care about a single payer system.

I do think fairness is a component of the interest of older Americans in single payer health care. We have seen far too much suffering caused by a health care system that is not universal. Too many people don’t receive health care they need because they can’t get coverage or afford coverage ----or because insurance they have is inadequate. Too many “older Americans” have watched children, friends, and others struggle (or even die unnecessarily). The “system” isn’t fair and it hurts too many people.

However, there is also the issue of self interest. Conceptually, Medicare is a health safety net for those over 65; that’s the way it was originally intended. The current Medicare program has become increasingly “broken”. Between deductibles, co-pays, and increasing costs, Medicare is inadequate. A recent study said that a couple can expect to pay hundreds of thousands of dollars on healthcare, assuming they have Medicare “benefits” to start with.

Most people don’t grow old with those extra resources. As the costs of basic Medicare increase (and they do regularly), we will see increasing numbers of people entitled to Medicare who don’t have all of the coverage they need. And we will see increasing numbers of people who can’t afford to use it, if they do have it----because of the steady increase in co-pays and deductibles.

The situation is, of course, worse for older women. Older women are poorer than older men. They have lower savings and a lower income, with a much higher proportion living on Social Security alone. And, of course, women live longer than men---generally, the older, the fewer resources. Increasingly your financial resources enable you to use the Medicare system.

Older Americans recognize the importance of an integrated system of health care for all, because they see that our society needs it and because they are members of that society.

--Kathie Piccagli, OWL National Board and OWL of California

Monday, May 4, 2009

Elder Economic Security

I have been motivated to look at “Elder Economic Security”, both by things going on here in California and looking at the National picture. It appears that there is a national effort (at least in five or more states) to determine a more realistic economic standard for older people. As “Older Americans Month” gets underway, this is a totally appropriate emphasis. This is “where it’s at.” We need to pay attention to it. We need to update it.

Economic issues are the most important overarching issues facing us as we grow older. Your economic situation affects housing, health, nutrition, social interaction---the whole gamut of quality of life. If you don’t have enough resources to cover your basic needs, life is very difficult indeed. We often hear of retirement or getting older as “golden years” But are they? Not for many----most, in some areas of the country.

Poverty levels and cost of living standards used by most government agencies were based on conditions in the 1950’s. In addition, there are ordinarily not allowances for different geographic areas----housing costs a lot here in CA cities, for example. Extensive studies have been done, at least at the University of MA and in CA by the UCLA-Insight program.

According to these studies, many, many seniors are poor---they don’t have enough to cover necessities, much less extras. At the same time, many in dire economic straits don’t qualify for many government supports, because eligibility is based on outdated data.

As previous bloggers have said, I am one of the lucky ones, as are most of the people who’ll read this. It’s not going to matter to me right now, for example, that social security recipients are not getting a cost-of-living increase this year, as I read in the paper this morning. But it may matter to me someday.

Meanwhile it bothers me a lot that we aren’t working hard enough to put supports in place, that more and more older people are finding it difficult to survive. The problem of not living comfortably will only get worse as time goes on, and we live longer and longer.

It is important for us to realize that the income levels and poverty are worse for older WOMEN. We have fewer savings, we get less from social security and pensions, we live longer----and longer life and gender mean more health problems, care needs, and expenses.

(In CA, legislation supporting adoption of a fairer elder economic index, was introduced this spring---AB 324.)

-Kathie Piccagli, OWL San Francisco and OWL National Board of Directors

Saturday, May 2, 2009

Older American's Month - Elder Economic Security Initiative

am kicking off Older American’s Month to spread the importance of the Elder Economic Security Initiative.

Even though I am better off than most of my friends, my economic security is undermined by the present economy. The market drop over the past year, double the Medicare amount removed from my social security to my HMO, increased costs of local utilities and on and on. But compared to my friends I am rich and not eligible to apply for support programs.

My elderly friends live on minimum social security that is due to their career lower pay rates and/or less years in the workforce. They are struggling to choose among the necessities for heating, prescription drugs and food. Over and over again I hear if it were not for the 99 cent stores I could not eat through the month.

It is critical to support the Elder Economic Security Initiative. We must be realistic about the costs of senior living expenses and raise the Federal Poverty Level so that programs that use this measure to approve assistance fill the gap more appropriately. Right now there is no safety net. Some programs play ping pong with eligibility differences that confuse and deny needed healthcare.

My friends find themselves in an awkward position to postpone serious health concerns or manipulate the system in ways that they feel morally wrong.

We help and network with each other but it is not enough to quell the anger, anxiety and stress that each day brings. We must do more for our elderly women. America’s goal is economic security for all our elders and removes the present threshold of poverty.

Shirley Harlan
San Bernardino, CA 92406

Friday, May 1, 2009

The Fight for Equal Pay!

Tuesday, April 28 was Equal Pay Day, a day not to be celebrated, but rather observed. That date was designated because it marks the point in 2009 when the average woman’s wages finally catch up with those paid to the average man in 2008. Women overall still make only 78¢ for every dollar earned by men. Forty-six years after the Equal Pay Act was passed in 1963, the wage gap has closed only 19¢ - a rate of less than half a penny a year! And for women of color, the numbers are even worse. African-American women earn 62¢ and Latinas earn 53¢ for every dollar earned by white, non-Hispanic men.

Here at OWL, we know that fair and equitable pay is the foundation for economic security later in life. After all, you can’t save what you don’t earn.

You may remember that President Obama signed the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act into law in January, ending a long lobbying effort by OWL and many other hard-working organizations. This was a great victory for equal pay, but it was only step one! The Paycheck Fairness Act, the next step of the fight for fair pay, has been passed in the House but still need to be passed by the Senate.

Why do we need both bills? They each play different roles in the fight for fair pay. The Ledbetter Fair Pay Act corrected a Supreme Court decision and affirmed that each time a worker receives an inequitable paycheck it is an act of discrimination and a violation of the law. It ensures that victims of discrimination have the right to fight back and seek compensation. The Paycheck Fairness Act, on the other hand, would amend and fortify the Equal Pay Act of 1963 by prohibiting employer retaliation, strengthen penalties for discrimination, and closing loopholes that employers use to get out of paying penalties.

TAKE ACTION! Call your Senators and urge them to support The Paycheck Fairness Act (S. 182). Let them know that it is unacceptable that women are still earning only 78 for every dollar earned by men!

-Elizabeth Lamme, OWL Public Policy Assistant

Elder Economic Security Index

This week, OWL and many women's organizations celebrated Equal Pay Day. This day marks the point in 2009 when women's earnings catch up to what men's earnings were in 2008. Our staff and members wore red clothing as a symbol of women's pay still being "in the red."

Today is "Blog about Elder Economic Security Day." A key concern is that we can't achieve economic security or change policy if we don't have an accurate measure of income adequacy. Our friends at Wider Opportunities for Women have developed a much better tool than what is currently used for figuring out the true costs are that we face in retirement. The Elder Economic Security Standard Index (Elder Index) is a much more precise and up-to-date measure of seniors’ income adequacy and economic well-being.

The Elder Index provides a complete picture of what it takes for an individual 65 years or older to age in place with dignity. The Elder Index uses cost data from federal and state sources to assemble a realistic household budget, which includes expenses such as housing, transportation, food, and health care. The Elder Index will show that household expenses can vary significantly due to variables such as health status, geographic location, housing status, and marital status. The Elder Index can help us to figure out what women need to truly be able to retire free from poverty

Women still earn fewer cents on the dollar than men 44 years after the passage of the Equal Pay Act. Fewer dollars earned means fewer dollars to save. I am expected to live on average six years longer than my male counterpart. I am also projected to spend up to twelve years caregiving for children, grandchildren, spouse, parents or grandparents. These twelve years of labor are of course unpaid.

We need a better measure of economic security and the Elder Economic Security Index is a major leap forward in helping policy makers to see what women need.

Ashley B. Carson
Executive Director, OWL

Washington, DC

I love going to Washington DC. As a member of the OWL National Board, I come to Washington three times a year. Each time I come, I plan something different to do in the city. As I come from New York City, I have the opportunity to travel inexpensively, by bus, to DC. The bus leaves me about six blocks from my hotel- Hosteling International-Washington, DC. This centrally located hostel is a safe, clean and cheap place to stay in the city. I always request a bottom bunk.

I have seen the Vietnam Memorial on a cold damp January morning. I was a college student during the war and protested against it. I now wonder what kind of memorial will be built for all those lost in the Iraq and Afghanistan conflicts. The summer trip down the Potomac River to Mount Vernon was a lot of fun. I usually travel around the city by myself but on the last trip, Shirley Harlan, another member of the OWL National Board, went with me. We had a great time and learned that it was a group of women that saved Mount Vernon from destruction. Shirley introduced me to the Kennedy Center’s free evening concert events. The night we went it was a children’s author reading his book. It was very enjoyable, even for an adult.

Other places I visited are the National Archives, the National Zoological Park, and the National Museum of the American Indian. At the National Archives, I saw the Declaration of Independence as well as documents signed by Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Susan B. Anthony who pushed for a woman’s right to vote. The National Zoo has an outstanding giant panda habitat as well as Komodo dragons. The Museum of the American Indian tells the stories of many Native American tribes. Also, the food at the museum makes it “the place” for lunch. The selection is planned around regional foods that different tribes would have eaten. For example, items could be Indian fry bread, tamales, buffalo burgers, or grilled salmon as well as different kinds of oysters and seasonal vegetables. The prices are reasonable and not a hot dog in sight. The best thing is that all of these places have no admission fees.

What are my plans for my next trip? Well, I have not been to Arlington Cemetery or seen the monuments of DC by night. By the way, I always make the OWL Board meetings.

-Lowell Green, NE Regional Representative to the OWL National Board