Guess Who’s Rallying for Medicare for All? Senior Citizens

Bernie’s Medicare for All proposal would also fill the coverage gaps in Medicare.

Taylor Moore March 13, 2020

Jane Addams Senior Caucus members demand support for Medicare for All at the office of Illinois Democratic Rep. Mike Quigley on February 13. (Photo by Kelly Viselman)

CHICA­GO — What began as back pain end­ed in a five-month stay at the hos­pi­tal for an excru­ci­at­ing spinal infec­tion that almost par­a­lyzed Cather­ine (name changed for pri­va­cy). She is ready to go home, but to recov­er, she requires a hos­pi­tal bed, a Hoy­er lift to get from her bed to her wheel­chair, a wheel­chair ramp, in-home care, and trans­porta­tion to her doc­tor. To afford it all, Catherine’s fam­i­ly turned to GoFundMe, a pop­u­lar web­site for crowdfunding.

Because seniors already have Medicare and may be retired, changing the healthcare system is not typically considered a key issue for their voting demographic. The problem? “No one’s asked us."

At a ral­ly in sup­port of Medicare for All, Dylan Kos­son-Healy, 30, read aloud from Catherine’s GoFundMe page: While $15,000 is sure­ly a lot to ask of our fam­i­ly and friends, it is about the cost of her out-of-pock­et med­ical expens­es for just the next three months.” The family’s request is one of a quar­ter mil­lion on the plat­form rais­ing more than $650 mil­lion for med­ical bills annu­al­ly, accord­ing to the site.

Some 30 addi­tion­al pro­test­ers packed into the small field office of Demo­c­ra­t­ic Rep. Mike Quigley (IL‑5) on Feb­ru­ary 13, the day before Valentine’s Day, to read more heart­break­ing tes­ti­monies from Quigley’s con­stituents. Then they broke into a chant: Con­gress­man Quigley, sup­port Medicare for All” — known in the House as H.R. 1384.

Led by the Jane Addams Senior Cau­cus, most of the mem­bers of the Chica­go Medicare for All Coali­tion in atten­dance were over 65.

Until you sign on and pass Medicare for All, your con­stituents have to turn to friends, fam­i­ly and strangers on the inter­net to help them sur­vive,” said Mary Ellen Winkel­man, 81, co-chair of the Jane Addams Senior Caucus.

Because seniors already have Medicare and may be retired, chang­ing the health­care sys­tem is not typ­i­cal­ly con­sid­ered a key issue for their vot­ing demo­graph­ic. The prob­lem? No one’s asked us,” Winkel­man tells In These Times. They just assume we are okay with [the cur­rent system].”

Dr. Anne Scheetz, 69, retired from her clin­i­cal prac­tice so she could focus on polit­i­cal advo­ca­cy work with Physi­cians for a Nation­al Health Pro­gram, a coali­tion mem­ber group.

Clin­i­cians are suf­fer­ing from the dis­con­nect between what they went into their pro­fes­sions to do for peo­ple, and what they can do,” Scheetz says. It breaks your heart to have to tell some­body their insur­ance won’t pay for what [they] need.”

Sin­gle-pay­er health­care would be valu­able for every­one, includ­ing seniors, says Thomas Wil­son, 68, board pres­i­dent of the Illi­nois Sin­gle-Pay­er Coali­tion, anoth­er mem­ber group. Medicare, in its cur­rent state, is not per­fect — out-of-pock­et expens­es are high and not all med­i­cines and pro­ce­dures are cov­ered, leav­ing those who can afford it to nav­i­gate a con­fus­ing mar­ket­place of sup­ple­men­tal insur­ance, which still may not cov­er everything.

Medicare for All leg­is­la­tion—spon­sored by Con­gres­sion­al Pro­gres­sive Cau­cus co-chair Rep. Prami­la Jaya­pal (WA‑7) in the House and Bernie Sanders in the Sen­ate — would estab­lish a gov­ern­ment-spon­sored health­care sys­tem that abol­ish­es pri­vate med­ical insur­ance and makes care free at the point of ser­vice. For cur­rent Medicare recip­i­ents, this new sin­gle-pay­er sys­tem would elim­i­nate out-of-pock­et expens­es and fill the cov­er­age gaps, Wil­son says.

About half of the 232 Democ­rats in the House have co-spon­sored the bill, includ­ing five of Chicago’s eight Con­gress mem­bers. Chicago’s excep­tions are Quigley and Reps. Dan Lip­in­s­ki and Raja Krish­namoor­thi, all fac­ing Medicare for All sup­port­ers in Illi­nois’ March 17 Demo­c­ra­t­ic primary.

At a pri­or meet­ing with the Jane Addams Senior Cau­cus, Quigley report­ed­ly implied that Medicare for All isn’t pop­u­lar among his con­stituents. So the group respond­ed by send­ing 1,000 con­stituent Valen­tine cards call­ing for him to sign on, sealed in heart-shaped boxes.

While Quigley’s office did not answer In These Times’ request for com­ment, he told the Chica­go Tri­bune in Jan­u­ary he favors expand­ing the Afford­able Care Act with a pub­lic option. He was not present at the Feb­ru­ary protest at the office he shares with Chica­go Ald. Tom Tun­ney, but the alderman’s staff did call Quigley to lis­ten in. (It is unclear who took the call.)

For some of the younger pro­test­ers — includ­ing mem­bers of Chica­go Demo­c­ra­t­ic Social­ists of Amer­i­ca (DSA) and Stu­dents for a Nation­al Health Pro­gram—it was the first time work­ing in sol­i­dar­i­ty across the age spectrum.

It was real­ly impres­sive,” says Kos­son-Healy, union attor­ney and Chica­go DSA mem­ber. I go to a lot of ral­lies that are main­ly made up of younger peo­ple, and to see an inter­gen­er­a­tional pres­ence was uplifting.”

The protest was just the most recent of ongo­ing Medicare for All actions staged by the Jane Addams Senior Cau­cus. At an annu­al con­fer­ence of the Amer­i­can Med­ical Asso­ci­a­tion (AMA) in June 2019, for exam­ple, more than 40 activists (most­ly seniors and peo­ple with dis­abil­i­ties) held a die-in,” telling heart­break­ing med­ical sto­ries while lying on the floor with grave­stone-shaped signs com­mem­o­rat­ing loved ones they had lost. Two months lat­er, the AMA end­ed its mem­ber­ship in Part­ner­ship for America’s Health Care Future, a cor­po­rate lob­by­ing group of pri­vate hos­pi­tals and phar­ma­ceu­ti­cal com­pa­nies against single-payer.

The sen­ti­ment of the die-in — des­per­a­tion, urgency — was echoed in a sign held by an old­er pro­test­er at the Valentine’s Day action: Dear Quigley, peo­ple are dying of bro­ken hearts. Do something!”

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