WHY AREN’T YOU DEAD YET?

Why aren’t you dead yet?

If you’re over 65 and/or on Medicare, or poor on Medicaid, that’s the message you’re getting.

Out-of-pocket costs of Medicare have been going up annually, with ever-higher deductibles and premiums and a massive doughnut hole in prescription coverage that like the energizer bunny just keeps going and going and going. Many of the most fundamental, critical medications aren’t covered at all — emergency and other inhalers for asthma sufferers, nitroglycerin, newer antibiotics. Out-of-pockets costs are terrifying.

Coffin

It doesn’t matter that you literally can’t live without your medications. Survival is your problem. Your health care providers, including your doctors, don’t care.

Ever since I turned 65, it’s been a downhill slide into worse medical care. As long as I was on MassHealth (Massachusetts’ Medicaid), I was okay. Medication was affordable. If I was sick, I got care. Lucky I had cancer while I was covered by MassHealth. Otherwise, I’d be dead.

The day I turned 65, I was dumped from MassHealth. I vainly hoped I’d be protected by my disabled status. I had been on Social Security disability for years. Officially disabled, I was thus entitled to MassHealth.

No problem getting around that. Social Security reclassified me as just old, not disabled. They switched me to standard Social Security. I get the same money, but without the protection. They also changed the poverty line so I no longer qualify for the extra help I was getting for medications.

Cost-of-care

Apparently when you’re over 65, you need a lot less money to live on. Pity no one told my mortgage company or other creditors. Or the drug companies. When you hit 65, you are healed of all existing disabilities and can can live on a third of the money you needed before. Poverty — when you are 65 or older — is set to levels so low you couldn’t afford a refrigerator crate.

All of this occurred right after the second anniversary of the two tumors which cost me both breasts, at which point I discovered I needed major heart repair. Without MassHealth, I needed a new medical plan and had switched to a Medicare HMO. At the time, there was only one in Worcester County. Fallon was (and remains) awful with practically no oncologists and they didn’t include the only dedicated cancer facility in central Massachusetts.

So, for a year, under Fallon, I didn’t see an oncologist. I made appointments, but they were consistently cancelled because the guy had meetings. Not emergencies. Meetings. By the end of 2013, facing heart surgery and needing a real oncologist, I switched to one of Blue Cross’s Medicare PPO Advantage plans. Simultaneously, Partners Group, the umbrella organization for all the doctors I’d been using withdrew from the Medicare and MassHealth HMO programs. Partners Group chose to not serve the old and poor. Not profitable.

At the beginning of 2013, I had no doctors. My PCP, gastroenterologist, psychiatrist … my entire support network … dissolved. In theory, I could continue to go to them. It was, after all a PPO … but it turns out just because you can go to a doctor doesn’t mean your insurance will pay the bills.

I needed new doctors and I don’t have them.

I’ve had four different kinds of heart surgery and I don’t have a cardiologist. No one is monitoring my blood pressure or medications.

Essentially, I’ve got no medical services. I’m taking the medications I was taking before surgery because I don’t know what else to do. I’m doing my best to hook up with doctors, but I’m in limbo and have been since before the surgery.

I’m angry. I’m trying hard to stay calm, but inside, I’m terribly angry. I’m getting the message loud and clear.

“Why don’t you just die already? Stop using up valuable resources we could use for younger people who deserve to live.”

I’ve outlived my usefulness. So how come I’m not dead yet?

When did we become this mean-spirited country with medical organizations which would rather close down than provide care to most vulnerable citizens? How did we come to this? Who are we?

I know. I get it. Just die already.

49 thoughts on “WHY AREN’T YOU DEAD YET?

  1. I don’t want to stick my nose in where it’s not wanted, being an outsider and all, but I can’t stop thinking about your story, and Cee’s, and no doubt millions of others, There you are, intelligent, hard-working people in the world’s most powerful, advanced and influential country to which you have paid your taxes for a lifetime, condemned to third-world health care because you had the temerity to get old. You can’t make waves: zero might be reduced to minus. So what about this for a thought.

    One thing outsiders know about the US is that they don’t like other countries criticising their domestic policies. (Funny, that!) They like it even less when their ‘democracy’ is shown to be less perfect than they’d have us believe. And as for suggesting the American Dream is a fantasy – the the poor and discounted aren’t necessarily poor and discounted because they’re no-hopers – that is absolute anathema.

    Garry is a highly respected journalist who I’m sure still has overseas contacts. What about a series of articles (The Guardian, say?) to draw outside attention to the realities of US health care on a personal level. I was disgusted when Obama’s health care reforms were shot down, but I’m shocked and outraged by a personal insight into what this means to you.

    Just a thought…

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    • It’s a good idea … Garry will read this and think on it. He takes this sort of thing very seriously.

      In all the years America has been a nation, the only president who managed to get any significant legislation through were Lyndon Johnson and Obama. FDR tried and failed as did Clinton. We still don’t know how or if Obama’s bill will affect health care. Millions of people signed on … but it hasn’t had time to shake out the wrinkles.

      I’ve been saying for more than 40 years that our system stinks. It’s NOT a system. It’s just a disaster.

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  2. Amen, on so many levels. It really is terrible what happens to the elderly and the poor, and the people that are ruining our healthcare don’t realize that one day they too will be old, and possibly disabled. How about some comeuppance then?

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    • Funny you should mention that. Everything changes when it becomes personal. The same people are suddenly horrified at how bad the system is and how little Social Security offers in the way of security compared to the huge amounts of money you pay into the system. One of the strangest things is how many people don’t seem to realize that when you start collecting social security, you are getting your own invested money back. You aren’t on the dole. You are retired … but of course, you can’t really live on social security, so a lot of people can never afford to retire.

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  3. Oh dear, I guess the time has come jump off the cliff. (just kidding) They are going to have to push me off, and before I go, I’m going to raise Hell!
    Leslie

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  4. That’s what I used to say about my Dad .. every time I went driving with him.

    The plan is working … it starts by getting us wondering about everything …

    For myself that often takes a few hard slaps up the side of the head …

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  5. This is a concern of mine as well. While I am far from that age, my mother, who lives with us, is getting closer to 65 and retirement. Her biggest fear is medical care. I’m so sorry, I wish our country valued it’s elderly and veterans, two groups that seem to be forgotten.

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  6. I remember so many of the stories I did over the decades in TV news. I always felt compassion for the people caught up the seemingly endless catch 22s of our health care system and government red tape. But, candidly, I felt “safe”. I was still in my prime and doing well. Now, I know better.

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  7. I don’t have the age issues yet…..but I can certainly get on the band wagon with you. Because of insurance (or lack thereof the company I worked for went bankrupt and closed) I was kicked out of the hospital before I could sit up on my own or keep food down. That’s the time I was in a coma. Both Chris and I worked for the same company and it was the beginning of the .com death in 2001. We both lost our jobs and cobra insurance. I couldn’t sit up for more than a half hour at a time, couldn’t stand or walk, use the bathroom, anything. Insurance ran out, I went home. We had just moved to a ranch outside of Colorado Springs and had no doctors for me. My case was so complicated the hospital sent me home with very little medication and no prescriptions. They didn’t want the liability.

    I had diabetes and open wounds on my back that needed to be monitored and dressings changed twice a day. Anyhow no doctor would even look at me without insurance. Chris tried desperately to contact agencies to get someone to look at me and renew my meds. There was 90 day waiting lists for any kind of help. And with active diabetes, I would be dead. As a last resort we called our old doctor in Denver and she renewed my meds. I was still to sick to travel that far. Thank God for her.

    I was unable to get medicare/medicaid because we owned to much stuff. Even though we ended up foreclosing on our ranch, had my truck repossessed, and sold nearly everything we owned. I was denied disability. A dear friend of ours sent us a package that was filled with wound dressings and all the medical stuff I needed that wasn’t prescription, diabetic drinks and food, games for Chris and I to play, treats for our dogs and cats. It was a hundreds of dollars for this huge box of supplies. We called to thank her because we felt like there was a ray of hope in our lives. All she did was say watch the news. That date was Sept 11, 2001.

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    • Thanks for the perspective, Cee. That’s the one thing I try to remember when things seem very dark here.

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      • Hang in there. It will be worthwhile. 9/11 is filled with such joy and sadness for us. I almost feel guilty feeling so happy on that day. I just don’t talk about our joy that day much.

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    • I went through something very similar. I became too sick to work in 2001 and Garry was laid off almost simultaneously. The company for which I was working went bankrupt so no insurance and Garry had no insurance either. For two years, we had NO income either. None. Zero. We lived off Garry’s severence pay and I got sicker and sicker. In 2007, I was almost dead. My problem, like yours, was complicated and no one wanted anything to do with it.

      Then there was a doctor who cared. One great doctor … Dr. David Lautz … and despite my lack of insurance, he took me into the hospital and somehow got them to let him repair me. I was there for almost four weeks. Two surgeries. I never saw a bill. If it weren’t for him and Brigham & Women’s Hospital, I would have died. I was damned close to it. After that, we got our state senator (Richard Moore) to help us get MassHealth and we were okay until first Garry, then I, turned 65 and everything fell apart. That’s the short version. It’s more complicated than that, but in many ways, the same tale with different details. I’m still alive and so are you. That’s the good news. But it’s never over. They keep changing the rules and we keep getting older.

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      • Yeah, but you and I are tougher than the system. I pay lots of money for insurance and any of my medical costs are never covered anymore. It’s just there in case of a catastrophic thingy. Oh well…

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  8. Reblogged this on Dragon Droppings and commented:
    This is scary. I’m on Medicare now but I’m also on my husband’s Blue Cross-Blue Shield retirement health care which is very good until/unless he dies. Fortunately he is healthy and I’m getting better (getting the Diabetes (Type II) under control.)
    The Over-65 population is the largest voting segment in the US. I suggest we ALL register (if you haven’t done so yet and IT’S FREE to do) and start bombarding our senators and representatives to make sure we’re taken care of and that our children/grands & greats will be, too.

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    • Not only are we the largest voting segment (post-war baby boomers still rule), but we control the majority of the money in this country. Yet we are discounted as unimportant. I vote. I ALWAYS vote. I do it all, for whatever good it has done. Hang on to that health insurance!!

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  9. I still find it incredible that this happens in one of the richest countries in the world. Of course, that’s probably how it became so rich – only help people who can afford it.
    I must admit that having grown up in the UK, I didn’t realise how bad it was in the US until I watched ER just a couple of years ago and they had a couple of story lines covering this issue.

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    • Even younger working people in this country don’t realize what is going to happen when they turn 65 … or if life throws them a curve and suddenly, they don’t have the money for private insurance. It’s a whole new world and not a pretty one. And this being said, it’s actually BETTER than it used to be! Imagine that!

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  10. There would have been a time, not that long ago, where your post would have been confusing to me. But a funny thing has happened to me since my forced retirement, I got officially old. The Human Resources folks at Intel had meetings with each employee they were about to lay off by shutting down their plant. My meeting was eye opening when I proved to them their generous offer to give each of us laid off workers free Cobra coverage for a full year was worthless. It’s how they work that makes it worthless. So I spent the next two years with zero medical coverage.

    It’s funny what happens when you have no medical insurance. The same doctors you’ve been seeing for 5 years no longer want you around. Mine put it in writing by cancelling all my prescription medications and sending me a letter that I should go to one of the “free” clinics. Gee, thanks!

    I finally got poor enough to qualify for my VA Medical coverage. It took a $50,000 drop in annual income to qualify for a hardship case. That was thanks to a stroke of a pen in 2005 when our illustrious congress snuck a bill through putting earning caps on eligibility. No one mentioned when I was fighting and serving my country during Vietnam that I’d have no medical coverage if I had a job.

    I turn 65 on May 10, 2014. The craziness you mentioned Marilyn has already begun. Social Security has lost the paperwork I submitted to NOT receive Medicare parts B & C. I already have VA Medical. Yet I had to wait 3 hours in an office full of Latinos to see a representative for 5 minutes to fill out that same form they lost, just to save $115 a month from being needlessly from my Social Security check. It worked, I received a letter putting back that money in my check as I received my Medicare card showing just Plan A coverage, whatever that is.

    Now I scrambling to find another place to live, this time looking for government subsidized housing. There’s a two year waiting list for that assistance. I suppose living on the street while patiently waiting my turn won’t be so bad. After all, I live in a mild climate. :(

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    • Ours seems to be a disgustingly common experience. As soon as you get past the age when you are paying exorbitant taxes, your years of contributions are worth nothing. That’s all past and no one except a few personal friends and maybe family knows or cares who you are. It’s all about the bottom line. Financially, we aren’t far behind you.

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  11. This is DREADFUL, Marilyn, utterly iniquitous. Money before people? What the hell is wrong with our world? Mean-spirited and completely crazy. I am going to share this on – only thing I can do. Wish there were more. Hugs, Ali xxx

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    • Thank you for the reblog. I think younger people don’t believe how badly they will be treated the moment they are deemed officially old. It’s scary, humiliating, and infuriating … and leaves you helpless in the face of a bureaucracy so huge and daunting you know you can’t win.

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  12. Mean spirited is exactly what it is and it makes me angry too.It’s scary that people have to live this way. Australia, which I always thought had pretty good public health care looks as it it is heading down the same road.

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  13. This is just outrageously, unforgiveably ridiculous. After all that surgery, nobody even monitors your blood pressure or medication?

    How can a country so technologically advanced, a country that prides itself on being the world’s No 1 and thus having the right to expect ‘shock and awe’ from the rest of us – how can such a country justify its own cruel, money-grubbing, elitist attitude to something as basic as health care? Every time i hear stories like this (and there are many) I’m enraged all over again. Not my country, possibly not my right to say, but inhumanity anywhere is an abomination, and this is inhumane.

    Home of the brave? You’d have to be, with a system like that.

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    • As others before me have said, getting old is not for the faint of heart. It’s hard for me to keep my head and not go completely nuts … but I can’t do that because I need these people. I need help and if I tell them what I think of them, this will not get me what I want.

      It’s an ugly world we’ve made. Ugly, mean-spirited, cruel and yes, elitist. Money talks, the rest of us get trashed.

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  14. Just wait until after the mid-term elections in November. If the GOP gains control of the Senate and keeps control of the house, all bets are off for us senior citizens (unless you are one of the 1%; I am not). It’s gonna go from bad to worse, I’m afraid.

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