Randi D (@wascaleywabbit)
If I may dust off the adage- We never thought it would happen to us.
On a cold morning in January 2019. I sat with my father in the waiting room of the social services building in the downtown of our county seat. The building was aging and in disrepair. Upon arrival, we were processed through a metal detector and frisked by a pleasant security guard who directed us to the proper area. The waiting room was teeming with people from all walks of life who presumably were there because they needed help too, the air permeated with anxiety. They didn’t even bother putting a television in this room, so you could hear every whisper, every cough and every paper rustle. The white and yellow checkered linoleum floor was dingy and the plastic chairs very uncomfortable. The bored security guard overseeing this area was looking at his phone. It was quite possibly one of the most depressing places I had ever been.
Eventually, our number was called. A frazzled and sympathetic social worker took us back to her desk. The cubicle area was dank and still littered with cheap Christmas decorations. The smell was an amalgamation of old vinyl and stale coffee. We sat in slightly less uncomfortable chairs in front of a small desk piled with papers and folders. We strained polite smiles for this poor government employee yet unable to shake the uneasiness of being there, of feeling like this couldn’t be happening. She sat down behind her desk and asked us what brought us in that day. We briefly recounted our story. She inquired about what benefits we were interested in applying for.
“Everything.” I said flatly.
All told we spent about 2 hours filling out forms and providing her documentation. I was still cautiously optimistic. We reside in a consistently blue, progressive state. Compared to surrounding states, I was always under the impression our social programs were generous. Surely in his hour of need, there would be a safety net for a man who worked and paid taxes his entire adult life in this state.
Now let me tell you how we got here. How this, in fact, happened to us.
I consider my family to be a typical American working-class family. We are employed at common service industry jobs: teacher, secretary, warehouse stocker, insurance adjuster. My unmarried parents are high school educated folks who always worked while raising kids and did their best to provide for us. We were never what I could consider comfortable, it was always just enough to get by. As the cost of living goes up while wages stagnate, surviving in the American middle class becomes more precarious for many of us by the year.
My Dad worked at the same company for over 20 years. He was old fashioned, came in early, stayed late, rarely called out, made sure the job got done. He is getting on in years, he admittedly moves a little slower than he would like; all the years of hard labor when he was in his twenties has taken its toll on his body. A faithful employee nonetheless.
Two weeks before Christmas in 2018, without warning, my Dad was laid off. He resides in an at-will employment state, so there is no mandate the company give any notice or reason. Curiously, no one else from his office was laid off. His employers gave some feeble excuse about cut backs but there is no evidence that the company is experiencing such a financial strain. As I am writing this, their stock is trading at 146.44 on the NYSE and their net income is listed at 1.4 billion.
He waited until after Christmas to tell anyone. He was embarrassed, my family was understandably shocked.
My Dad was and is still, too young to qualify for Medicare or Social Security but old enough to experience brutal ageism when applying for new employment. He fell into a sort of limbo group, not old enough to be a senior but too old to be a viable new employee. I immediately made in an appointment with the department of social services. I took off from my job the day of his appointment and we rode the train together downtown for that appointment.
He was denied for everything except unemployment insurance.
He was denied for Medicaid, disability, food stamps, utility assistance and housing assistance. Unemployment insurance only replaced two-thirds of lost income up to 25 weeks. The social workers we spoke to suggested we return after his unemployment benefits run out, when his income would literally be zero and he would become homeless, to reapply.
Our worst fear was becoming a reality. My Dad, who requires daily medication to keep him alive, is now without health insurance. If he takes his daily medications he can function as well as average men his age and is willing and able to work. If my Dad couldn’t receive enough money to pay his normal bills how is he supposed to afford health insurance.
The answer is he isn’t supposed to. The system doesn’t work that way.
So we were left with 2 options. Let my Dad try to live with no health insurance which meant no medications and hope his body would hold out until he got another job or until he turned 65; or I pay for his health insurance premiums out of my pocket to ensure he gets coverage.
We went with the latter.
Since his income was so drastically low at that point, we were able to purchase him an ACA plan for $256 a month. Bear in mind, my Dad still couldn’t afford the deducible and copay, so I must give him money to pay for that out of pocket too. I work full time to earn my own salary so that I can survive yet now had to place myself in a dicey financial situation to pay for my Dad’s unemployment dilemma. This isn’t even to mention the income gap that was created, requiring me pay the occasional heating bill or take him shopping for new clothes to wear for job interviews or new boots in the winter. My Dad is the patriarch of our family, it was humiliating for him to have to ask me for money. It hurt me to see him so dispirited. I have since had to delay a job relocation and drain my savings account to ensure my Dad gets what he needs just to survive the day to day. One marvels at how any sane person can make the argument that this system is just. Not one but two lives now devastated by this unavoidable event.
We diligently tried to find him steady employment that would at least approach what he was earning as a senior employee at his last job and offer health benefits. We quickly realized no employer was willing to take on an older worker with health issues despite his positive work history and pleasant interview demeanor. We are quickly running out of options.
Even when my Dad turns 65 in the summer of 2020, the social security disbursement he will be eligible for will not be enough to cover his living expenses. He will also need to purchase a Medicare supplement plan to cover all of his medical expenses since basic Medicare coverage is sorely lacking.
My Dad then falls into the category of Americans that must quite literally, work until the day they die in order to just survive.
That is why, when someone tries to engage me in a debate against Medicare for All, I find it easy to just to look them in the eye and pointedly ask, “So you think my father deserves to die then?” I am usually met with a confused look. After a few seconds, I will pose the question again in another way, “Why is it you think my father deserves to die? Please explain, I am curious to know.” Then I recount our saga which undoubtedly plays itself out for thousands of other families all across the country. Most people don’t have an answer for me and try to talk around the issue. The reality is there is no good faith argument to make against Medicare for All. Anyone who tries to make an argument about dollars and cents or unfair taxes on corporations is a ghoulish sociopath that needs to be gotten away from immediately.
Medicare for All is about life and death. That’s it. It’s very simple, actually.
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