When my Aunt Gerry was diagnosed last year with terminal lung cancer, my family and I got a close-up view of Medicare’s strengths as well as its shortcomings.
This social program came into being 50 years ago, on July 30, 1965. Although it helped my aunt a great deal, its limitations were also glaringly obvious in her case.
Aunt Gerry, who was my closest living relative, was a retired Catholic schoolteacher. After she received her diagnosis, her desire was to die comfortably at home. She was able to do that because hospice doctors, nurses, social workers, aides and chaplains came to her home to support her. Medicare paid 100 percent of the cost of my aunt’s home hospice care, including the rental of her hospital bed.
But Aunt Gerry also needed nonmedical assistance with essential daily tasks like bathing, preparing meals and going to the toilet. Medicare doesn’t pay for this type of help. This is very shortsighted, since anyone who needs home hospice care is likely to need this sort of support, too.
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Fortunately, Aunt Gerry was a frugal woman who had saved enough money to pay for this assistance out of pocket. But most people in her situation would not be able to do that, and they would have to spend their last days in nursing homes.
Aunt Gerry died last October in her own home. I’m exceedingly grateful that because of Medicare, my family and I were able to fulfill her simple wish to pass away the way she wanted to, in her own bed. That is exactly the kind of support and security Medicare is intended to provide.
But Medicare was also intended to serve individuals of lesser means. If that ideal is ever to be achieved, we need to expand the program so that it can work for all Americans, instead of just people like my Aunt Gerry.
Mike Ervin is a Chicago-based writer and a disability-rights activist with ADAPT (www.adapt.org). He wrote this for Progressive Media Project, a source of liberal commentary on domestic and international issues.