Just before I left for the United Kingdom, I got a phone call from my mother's neighbor in Florida. She had taken my mother to the ER because she had fallen at home after having a dental procedure earlier in the day and way too much pain medicine afterward. She got stitched up and sent home without so much as having the wound cleaned. I spent a week with her prior to moving here and she was on the mend, but still eccymotic around the face where she had cut her cheek. We discussed personal emergency response systems (Emphatic "NO" from her) and how to deal with that particular dentist in the future. My mother is in her mid seventies, still works and maintains her home independently. She has health insurance from her employer.
She sent me an email yesterday stating that the bill had arrived from the hospital. For the ER visit the charge was $7,500.00 of which Medicare paid $88.00. Her own insurance covered all but $13.00, which she paid out of pocket. Sounds good, doesn't it? Except that without the insurance, she wouldn't have been able to pay her bill. My mother works because the employer she worked for in New England for 30 years lost the pension fund when they went under. She started from scratch again in her mid-fifties. She doesn't work because she wants to. She had virtually no retirement savings until recently. As I look forward, I wonder what will happen when she can no longer work? What if her health declines, will there be money to pay for treatment, co-payments or care at home? How will I care manage her from across an ocean?
Last week I wrote how the NHS isn't as ideal as I originally thought, however, there would be no bill what so ever for an ER visit. Elders here in the UK also get personal care based upon need. I visited a gentleman last week who lived alone, had a care worker come in to clean the house and prepare meals for him five days a week and offer personal care as needed as his abilities varied. He was able to live at home in a dignified manner and because the care worker identified that his COPD was getting worse, we were able to intervene before he required hospitalization. What that adds up to is a savings of money and grief.
As I reflect on this incident, I wonder about all the other older adults back home who won't or can't afford to retire. How will they get the basic care they will need? As they get older and sicker and fall more because of a lack of basic care, they will further drain the resources of the health care system. Meanwhile they are jeopardizing their own future by accumulating bills they won't be able to pay.
How can we as a society let our "greatest generation" face such an uncertain future at a time when they are the most vulnerable?