Saturday, September 19, 2009

The Longevity Factor

The Longevity Factor

Donna L. Wagner

Every morning I do the NY Times crossword puzzle before I start my day. On Monday, typically the easiest puzzle of the week, I noticed that it was taking longer than my normal 10 minute completion time. Puzzled by this difficulty, I noticed an announcement by the puzzle editor’s by-line: Longevity Week. This week the puzzle was featuring puzzles written by people who had at least 50 years of experience writing crossword puzzles. Monday’s puzzle was prepared by Bernice Gordon, 95 years old of Philadelphia. The oldest person ever to have a puzzle published, her work gave all of us who normally can do the puzzle on Monday before coffee pause.

Longevity has obvious advantages when it comes to puzzles and other intellectual pursuits requiring experience and command of the language. To the insurance industry and their assistants, members of the US Senate Finance Committee, longevity is not an asset to be respected but something to be penalized. The Baucus plan includes age-rating – just what we need in a nation of aging people. Age rating is another form of discrimination that, until recently was also levied upon women. Ironically, while giving a nod to the feminist advocacy groups around the country who so rightly fought against gender rating in health care, the “policy” makers just shifted it from the young women to the old women. Women do age and frankly, they age better and more reliably than do men. Women are also the gender who is most likely to have to step in when the older men in their lives, unable to afford the health care coverage they need, need help.

This proposal and all those who think age-rating is acceptable are not only discriminating against those who have lost their employer-based insurance but the rest of the population as well who will pay the bill one way or another in order to protect an industry that needs no protection. Age rating is antithetical to sound public policy and particularly offensive in an aging society. It is discrimination and a step backwards in the goal that should be at the center of the health care debate we are currently having: health CARE as a right to all citizens of the US.

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