Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Aging in France

Earlier this month I was in Paris to attend the International Congress of Gerontology and Geriatrics. Before the meeting started my husband and I did a little touring in the beautiful countryside of Brittany and Normandy. Hiking through the country on rural paths by fields of cattle, horses and vegetables and old stone houses we encountered a few French elders, one of whom shared a hike with us. A fan of Obama, she warmed to us immediately when we told her we were Americans. She explained that she hiked through her hills on a daily basis to keep active and healthy. After we said our adieus and parted ways, my husband and I spent the remainder of our hike musing over what it might be like to grow old in such beautiful surroundings. It seemed like a wonderful idea – old traditions, great food, beauty and health care for all. What’s not to like? A few days later we discovered another wonderful reason to grow old in France.

We were in a post office in Paris. The post office was bustling with activity – many Parisians use the post office as their bank and there were several lines of people waiting to make financial transactions. We were in a retail line to buy stamps for our postcards. Directly in front of us stood an older woman in her late 80’s or 90’s. Through a combination of French and sign language she asked us to save her place in line – something we were happy to do – and she moved away to stand next to the wall, leaning into it to help keep herself on her feet. We watched her carefully to make sure she didn’t fall and smiled to reassure her that she was going to have a turn before us. It wasn’t long before the clerk helping our line of customers noticed her leaning on the wall and called her up to the front of the line to take her order. Everyone moved away to give her room at the counter and she completed her transaction. It seemed like a very nice thing to do and we noticed that the six customers in front of us seemed happy to accommodate the needs of their older neighbor. But it didn’t stop there.

The clerk asked her if she needed to have a taxi called and if she needed to sit down. “Oui, si’l vous plait” was the response. Immediately the clerk left her line of 10 or 15 customers to go to the back room to find a chair. She brought the chair out into the lobby and then helped the woman over to the chair. After she was comfortably seated, the clerk asked her name and began to address her as Madame Delauney. Her complete attention was directed at Madame Delauney – none of it on her line. Everyone in the line was watching the interaction between the postal clerk and the elder in silence and apparently with patience, with the exception of an American who was several people behind us who began to complain. He told us all that he could get this post office to run efficiently in two days if he was put in charge of things and made other comments that I am sure few people in line understood. No one commented on his comments and the postal clerk continued to see to the well-being of Madame Delauney. She asked one of her co-workers to call a taxi for her and told her to sit there until someone came for her.

Returning to her station, the clerk began to wait on the next customer, an older gentleman who was mailing skeins of wool to his sister and needed a box to put them in. She slowly and deliberately selected one of her mailing boxes and helped him put the wool into it only to discover that it was not large enough. Needless to say, this action further incited the unhappy American behind us who began to search for an alternative line that looked more promising than ours. We had plenty of time in line to see the taxi driver enter the post office and began to look for Madame Delauney. He didn’t sit outside the post office in his taxi honking his horn – he came in and asked where she was. Our clerk left her station yet again to personally escort him to Madame Delauney and to help her stand and take his arm. The cab driver was attentive and careful with her as he escorted her out of the building and into his waiting cab.

You might already figure out where I am going with this rather amazing story. I had seen Parisians treat young children with this type of kindness and disregard for their own activities before but never had seen it with elders. Back to our original fantasy of growing old in France we could now add to the benefits of beauty, tradition and health care, kindness and concern for people of all ages who needed a little help with their daily transactions. It was a remarkable experience and one I am not likely to forget as I watch the scorn and impatience on the faces of those who are standing in line in my local grocery store, post office or bank here in the nation’s capital. Who needs assisted living when a society assumes it is their duty and privilege to make sure everyone is okay?

--Donna Wagner, President OWL National Board of Directors

Monday, July 27, 2009

I scream on the corner for nothing?

When I was a kid, a family ice cream joke was, “ I scream on the corner for nothing”. Now as an elder, I find myself screaming on the corner of 2nd and E Street for something! There I was Thursday for Single Payer Healthcare along with 40 or more Move-On persons from every walk of life screaming out “Healthcare Not Warfare” to Senator Barbara Boxer to encourage her to take a strong stand in the current debate.

Support a Public Option!

Support Affordable Healthcare!

Choice UP and Cost DOWN!

SAVE $$$$!

The current healthcare system is not working when America is 37th rated with other countries, when 47% of our population is not insured and cannot afford healthcare. Those who are insured risk if covered in the event of a medical occurrence and whether their policy will be renewed and at what increase cost? There are so many personal stories confirming this.

Yes, I am old enough to qualify for Medicare. Why should I care about others? Because I strongly believe that preserving the present market-based approach does not serve us well. Healthcare is not a commodity for sale but is a right; that my health depends on my neighbor being healthy; that this is an area that government does better when all of us are in the risk pool for access to quality care.

I urge support of a strong public option as part of healthcare reform that is available to ALL Americans on Day One. No “trigger” and No delay, No gimmicks.

Get out and scream! What do we want? Healthcare! When do we want it? NOW!

Shirley Harlan, PO Box 2276, San Bernardino 92406, 909 882 4057

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Stop Age Rating

As the health care reform debate has heated up in Washington, the issue of age rating insurance policies has been raised. The question is “will people be charged more for their health insurance because they are older?” OWL has come out strongly with a clear “NO”! To do that would be to discriminate against older people just because they are older. We have long stood against age and gender discrimination.

Here is how the debate is unfolding. Insurance companies now charge people more as they get older because they see that older people use (need) more health care services and therefore the company must pay out more. The companies charge a 55 to 65 year-old up to five times as much as a younger person just because of age. Logical? Maybe if you are an insurance company, but let’s look deeper.

The whole point of insurance is to spread the risk of needing to pay for medical care among people who will need it and people who won’t. That is what makes it insurance. If you lump all high users together you are not spreading the risk but putting it all on those who need the care.

Putting 55 to 65 year-olds in one risk pool increases the cost for that age group and essentially means that healthy 55 to 65 year olds support the ill 55 to 65 year-olds. All healthy people should help pay for those who need care because at anytime we might be the ones who need the care.

We, as a society, recognized that putting all people 65 and older into one pool would make insurance unaffordable for those over 65 so we created Medicare and a funding mechanism that spread the cost over the whole population. As we expand health insurance to all, we need to maintain that principle. Discriminating on gender or age should be a policy of the past.

Ellen A. Bruce
Immediate Past President, OWL Board of Directors

Sunday, July 5, 2009


Those of us who have been around OWL for some time have heard endless arguments about the use of the word “older” in Older Women’s League, the original name the founders gave the organization. A lot of members and potential members don’t want to be considered “old”, “older”-- or anything that suggests this. On the other hand, some embrace the term and would like to see “older” given a good name.

On some reflection, I’ve decided that when the founders used “Older” Women’s League, the word was used intentionally. It was a political embrace of feminism -- older women were not simply kindly, docile grandmotherly types. They had the intelligence and strength of women in general -- and feminism was about recognizing these attributes. And, in addition, they had experience and wisdom, not to mention the often-recognized trait of becoming more forthright in the “second half of life”.

There was pride in the term, when older women were a recognizable political force, advocating for issues that affected them. They were recognized as an “in your face” but wise group who stood up to issues, popular or not. They were leaders in rights for “displaced homemakers”, women returning to the workforce after a lot of caretaking. They were leaders in the movement for universal health care in the ‘90’s. And they have continually been leaders in advocating for women’s economic security (such as social security and pensions). These are only a few of the many areas in which active, involved older women, are a recognized as a significant political force.

Not wanting to use the term “older” is somewhat understandable, in our youth obsessed society. (In fact, in my OWL chapter we seldom use the term.) On the other hand, older women have some unique attributes. I’d really like to see us take positions of power and leadership again -- by any name.

--Kathie Piccagli
OWL San Francisco and National Board Member