This past February, I turned 58 — seven years away from Medicare, eight years or so away from Social Security. So there it is: I’m one of the last of the baby boomer generation (1946 – 1964), a Buddhist, and just another individual soul face to face with his own aging. All of this was reinforced a week about when an ex looked at my medical bills, glared into my eyes and stated the obvious:
“You cost too much.”
Yes … “I” … cost too much.
“Sorry,” I explained. “I was supposed to have been dead already.”
If death had occurred, there’d be no underlying medical expenses. No costs. No loss of employment wages. No hassels. However, the past six months have been a de facto race to retain eyesight. There was no major accident. I did not poke out an eye. I did not succum to household chemicals or hit by a baseball. There was no car accident, no fistfight, not even a stumble. I simply awoke on the morning of January 26th and couldn’t see. While I survived five major eye surgeries between the last week in January and first week of February, I accumulated $9,000 in health care deductibles and another $4,000 in lost income.
All that was just eye surgery.
All told, I was lucky. I had health insurance, albeit COBRA from a previous employer. Fast forward to 2025, all of us will likely to encounter a shortage of primary care physicians, increased emphasis on disease prevention, growth in electronic medical record-keeping, and growing disparities in both access and quality of primary care. Simply put, if you’re rich, you’ll have healthcare. If you’re poor, you die.
The number of those aged 60 and over will increase to 1.2 billion in 2025 and subsequently to two billion in 2050. By 2050, twenty-two (22%) percent of the world’s population will be over age 60 and 75% of the elderly will be living in countries with overburdened health care delivery systems. People, like me, will experience higher prevalence of chronic diseases, physical disabilities, mental illnesses and other co-morbidities.
While health care for the elderly requires collaboration of health, social welfare, rural/urban development and legal sectors, legislators continue to push aside such thoughts and while dropping billions into other investments, such as military armament, wasted border walls and other pet projects.
In fact, legislators say I cost too much, as Paul Ryan noted in December 2017;
“We’re going to have to get back next year at entitlement reform, which is how you tackle the debt and the deficit,” Ryan said during an appearance on Ross Kaminsky’s talk radio show. “… Frankly, it’s the health care entitlements that are the big drivers of our debt, so we spend more time on the health care entitlements — because that’s really where the problem lies, fiscally speaking.”
By 2050, 80% of all older people will live in low- and middle-income countries. As a generation of aging baby boomers, and a corresponding uptick in chronic illnesses, meets rising medical costs in a perfect storm, the medical and social services communities have to face a critical question: How can we best provide care for our nation’s low-income elderly population?
Financing alone will not be enough. I invite all those who are interested to reach out to your communities, get involved, and include yourself in the ongoing health care conversation. Only together can we create solutions for the expansion and improvement of community-based health care to better serve all our citizens. We have to do something now, now in 2025 or 2050. If we don’t, one day, you’ll be informed you cost too much.