Medicare as Medicine for a System Addicted to Itself
By Donna Smith
Just three short weeks ago, I became Medicare eligible. And shortly afterwards I faced a serious health crisis. What a never knew is how absolutely protected I am as a Medicare beneficiary when compared to the past 64 years covered by private insurance. My mindset has shifted already, and I wonder how many people realize the power of Medicare to provide freedom, security and a just access to care.
In so many of my years before Medicare, the very first thing I considered when ill was the potential cost of seeking care and how I would be able to pay those bills. I would race to the Internet to seek my own medical advice. In years before such easy access to reputable on-line information, I would often play the “wait-to-see-if-I-get-better” game that so many of us play rather than enter the money-draining, bottomless pit that is private insurance coverage in a dysfunctional health care system. No choice ever seemed to be the right one, and the worst feeling of all was going for care only to find out the problem was not serious. I felt like I had wasted my family’s precious money in those cases. In other situations when I chose not to seek care, an illness sometimes turned out to be serious and my delay in receiving care had only made things worse. It is the guessing game American patients play in this greedy, market-driven system that fuels nearly 20% of the nation’s economy.
What came as a huge shock to me on November 1st this year was not the financial relief, though that is lovely. The more significant and potentially cost-saving result for all of us lucky enough to have Medicare coverage is the mental and emotional relief I have felt in such a short time. It’s as if someone lifted a ton of weights off of my back and set my sails into a prevailing wind. I had become suicidal about every new physical illness or injury. My first worry about the next round of collection calls from hospitals, doctors, clinics or labs was gone. Overnight. Gone. I had not realized how much I had internalized my fear and shame about needing care. Yet, my emotional well-being had been under attack for decades. Medicare coverage lifted the din. No one could ever strip me of my coverage again.
Almost to reconfirm my sense of relief, I was in need of an emergency room and care just last week. After check-in and after being securely under the care of the “heart swarm” team, I waited for the business office to come wheeling into my room as they always had in the past. No one came. In three days of hospitalization, not one word was said to me about how I intended to pay for my care. Not one word. It was such an amazing feeling, and I am so very grateful to all the Americans before me who fought to secure Medicare for seniors like me and the disabled. Yes, I am aware there are things we need to fix about Medicare. No lectures about Medicare’s shortcomings. We can and must address those issues.
Imagine my surprise and joy to have the freedom to live. No worrying silently wondering if my death would be better for my family financially and thinking about how to die without leaving a mess. My mind and my heart have been so burdened with worry that my mental health took a huge hit for years. Medicare lifted so much of that depression and anxiety in an instant. Imagine the cost savings to all of us if we love one another enough to really demand that kind of peace of mind for everyone. Imagine that.
Medicare for all is not only the best health policy fiscally and socially, it turns out it is on a very personal level the most healing, compassionate and freeing thing we can offer one another. And that is the kind of America I have believed in for a very long time.
By Donna Smith
The Medicare For All Act will guarantee high quality, comprehensive healthcare for all of us including: mental, dental, vision, hearing, prescriptions, medical devices, preventative, women’s health, long-term care, and more—all with no out of pocket expenses: no premiums, co-pays, fees, caps, or deductibles.
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