WASHINGTON'S DRUGGIES
by Frank Kaiser
Until just recently, about 800,000 of us, aged 65 though 69, had to pay back our Social Security dollars if we earned more than $17,000 a year.

Thirty years ago my mother complained bitterly about having to give back what was rightfully hers. Did a wave of common sense suddenly flood over Washington?

Far from it. Truth be known, it was the usual pressure and legal bribes from business that opened up this "new opportunity for older Americans," as our president so quaintly put it.

In this current labor market, restaurants now employ more than 400,000 seniors. At McDonald's alone, 26,000 workers are 65 or older.

They need more.

WANT FRIES WITH THAT?

Unfortunately for us, once you turn 65 in this country, it's difficult to find anything but minimum-wage employment. Doesn't matter how deep and extensive your experience, prejudice places us under a glass ceiling so low only dogs can stand upright. Yet until now, politicians acted as if those working 4,000,000 of us did so for the love of it.

Flipping burgers has always been my retirement dream, how about you?

They say that politicians fear our senior citizen voting block. Sadly, when it comes down to just you and me, we can't get even their respect.

Example: Medicare's lack of drug coverage. Today millions of elderly Americans must daily decide whether to eat or take the expensive pills their doctors say are needed to keep them well, often from dying.

At least 12 million seniors can't afford insurance to cover prescriptions. Until Medicare provides comprehensive, affordable prescription drug coverage, older Americans will never receive the quality of health care they deserve.

Suddenly Trivia: In what year was Medicare enacted? a) 1935, b) 1965, c) 1972

Isn't the need for such coverage obvious to our representatives in Washington?

Of course. But this time big business dictates against us. The drug industry, fearful that the federal government could use its purchasing power to negotiate lower prices, annually doles out at least $12 million to Congress in political bribes, a major source of campaign cash.

Millions more go to lobbying and advertising efforts to "keep big government out of your medicine cabinet." Which is another way of saying, "Let us gouge seniors double and triple what patients in HMOs pay for drugs." No wonder thousands of American seniors cross borders with Canada and Mexico each day seeking lower drug prices.

LET CIGARETTE TAX PAY FOR OUR MEDICINE

Like I said, individually we get no respect from politicians. But that can change overnight. And it will if every one of us calls or writes to his congressman and senator telling them to include drugs in Medicare — NOW! — just like George W. and the rest promised.

Congress can pay for it by simply hiking cigarette taxes 70 cents a pack. That's a fact.

The AARP, although in agreement with this stance, has done little for change. But seeing such a movement, they'd follow to lead with the big money and clout it takes to organize such a push. Get the American Medical Association's deep pockets involved on our side and we'll have drug coverage under Medicare. I guarantee it.

The pharmaceutical industry's millions will suddenly look puny compared to a charge of millions of grannies and grandpas.

But it's up to us, you, me, and the millions of other seniors, most of whom are mad as hell, and not wanting to take it any longer.

Don't.

Sit down right now and call or write Washington. Tell them, "Drugs now or you're out next year!" Ask your friends to do the same.

It'll work if we work it.

© 2001 —Frank Kaiser

Suddenly Trivia Answer: b) 1965


For lots more of Frank Kaiser's wit and wisdom, go to http://www.suddenlysenior.com/columnlist.html. Or write Frank.

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