The Case for Early Medicare

Critics and supporters of the Affordable Care Act (ACA), aka Obamacare, tend to gloss over one key issue with the whole plan: Employment still, largely, equals health coverage.

More than 8 million Americans enrolled in health plans through Obamacare before the mid-April deadline. The White House trumpets the number. The GOP claims it’s falsely inflated and doesn’t reflect the ambivalence – if not dissatisfaction – many enrollees reportedly claimed with the quality of the plans they picked.

Our health-care insurance system was broken and clearly needed some serious repair. The idea that some 48 million Americans – not to mention the undocumented residents of our country – had no health insurance concerned me, too.

Bills for hospital stays and costs for drugs are outrageous. The poor and the shrinking middle class rank emergency rooms as doctor of choice for even minor health issues, spiked with the occasional, life-altering and perhaps preventable strokes or heart attacks. Not a good system when emergency rooms look more like yard sales than like places providing life-or-death care.

Health care affordable to all is a noble cause. So was 40 Acres and a Mule, the literally grassroots plan to empower former slaves to farm and rebuild the wrecked Old South after the Civil War. I part company here, though, with those who think Obamacare a good thing – oddly enough, I disagree with ACA opponents, too.

Both the plan and the debate forget a different group of very deserving people.

Up to about seven years ago in my advisory practice, my interview with a prospective client began with how his or her retirement planning progressed up to that point. We spoke of saving, investments, pension projections, insurance and the like. Most of these folks were 50 to 65 years old; some were younger.

People differ greatly in their desire or ability to work past various ages. I saw folks ready to retire at 55 and others (like me) who enjoyed what they did and wanted to keep at it for many additional years.

Most of these people came off some 30 years of employment, for decades a universally accepted span to work for someone other than yourself. That’s 30 years of contributions to what we as a society deem valuable. The typical long-term employee worked and supported a family for more than three decades.

Not anymore. You may surrender eight hours a day, five days a week for more than 30 years but if you don’t qualify for Medicare, the federal government insurance for the elderly, you’re not leaving yet.

At least, not if you want to avoid bankruptcy after a hospital visit.

Good employee, backbone of our nation. American citizens labor for almost a third of a century, reach their 50s or early 60s – and if they retire forfeit employer-sponsored health coverage. I call that an emergency.

Why doesn’t such a worker just bring the checkbook to the local insurance agency? Have you priced the cost to purchase medical coverage on your own lately?

Just a few years ago, coverage for a family was a few hundred dollars per month. Now? More than a thousand dollars every 30 days.

Hard-working men and women need Medicare-type coverage now – not at 65 – in the form of affordable medical insurance for those who gave a lot for so long. This coverage can no longer depend on current or former employment.

Those in their 50s and 60s must work longer because their health insurance rides on their job. They don’t – or can’t – quit or retire sooner. No wonder there’s a job shortage: Employees, terrified of health-insurance costs, can’t go away.

The health-care debate forgets these folks. We won’t have true insurance until we fix that.

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Written by Phillip Q. Shrotman, founder and president of Principal Planning Service, Inc. in Long Beach, Calif. He was a professor in the Business Division at Long Beach City College for over 29 years, where he held the position as Coordinator for Financial Planning and Insurance for the college. He holds a Community College Instructors Credential from the University of California at Los Angeles and a master’s from the University of San Francisco. He also holds the profession designations of General Securities Principal of the Financial Industry Regulatory Authority (FINRA), Series 7 and 24. He has appeared as a guest on KABC Talk Radio and various television and radio programs.

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