New Medicare Benefits
Going Unnoticed in Black Community
by Council Nedd II and Leslie O. Anderson
There are several passages
in the Bible suggesting much is expected from those to whom much
Keeping that in mind, there
is no shortage of people claiming to hold leadership positions
in the black community. Some have moderately reasonable arguments
as to how they earned this moniker, but others seem self-ordained.
Some exhibit sincere motives, while others appear to be no more
than opportunists running a confidence game. Regardless of how
they arrived, they now have an obligation of stewardship.
Medicare was designed as a
health care safety net for America's seniors. Launched in the
mid 1960s, around the same time as America's space program, it
filled a void in our society. Throughout most of human history,
old age often was synonymous with chronic illnesses. Until the
advent of Medicare, many families were financially devastated
by the bills that accompanied long hospitalizations and surgical
Like the space program back
then, Medicare still offers hope. It protects millions from
Almost 40 years later the world
has changed. Our obsession of putting a man on the moon has
become passé and great technological advances in pharmaceuticals
have cut many hospital stays in half. Diabetes and hypertension,
which once devastated the black community, are now fought with
medications never imagined just 20 years ago.
Until now, Medicare strictly
adhered to is original 1965 model - not offering prescription
drug coverage or emphasizing preventive care or disease prevention.
Medicare has now realized that seniors can be kept healthier
- and taxpayers can save money - if Medicare reflects the realities
of 21st century health care.
However, few know about these
monumental changes. Why are black "leaders" not telling
everyone about the $600 that Medicare has made available to seniors
to pay for their prescription drugs? Why do few know of the
authorized prescription drug cards that provide additional discounts
to seniors? Are these black leaders being good stewards?
Often, diabetes and hypertension
go hand-in-hand in the black community. There are many in inner-cities
across this country who are forced, for monetary reasons, to
make the unimaginable choice between food or medicine or one
medicine over another. There is something sinister when the
so-called black leadership seems to be withholding useful information
because knowledge of the source may benefit the wrong politicians.
Beginning in 2005, Medicare
will offer early detection screenings for cardiovascular disease
and diabetes. Medicare will also offer beneficiaries a wellness
exam. This is in addition to additional prescription drug coverage
that begins on January 1, 2006. These things will, hopefully,
lead to black Americans not only living longer, but having healthier
lives - and closing the current 12-year life expectancy gap between
black males and white females.
These Medicare reforms have
been in effect since June. Studies have shown Medicare beneficiaries
are saving at least 20 percent on their prescription drug costs
with the discount cards. Low-income seniors save even more thanks
to the $600 annual credit Congress included in the Medicare law.
Those monitoring the program say prices have not increased as
critics predicted. Rather, they have remained level, if not
Critics must realize that progress
is as inevitable as it is necessary. Modern medical technology
is keeping people healthier longer and saving taxpayers money
by covering the pharmaceuticals and preventive care that can
reduce the need for emergency room trips and long hospitalizations.
As for the naysayers assertions
of the reforms being too complex, over 10,000 seniors a week
are signing up for discount cards on the Internet and calling
Medicare's toll-free number. But there are still not enough
signing up for this program. News of the prescription drug benefit
must be delivered to more minority seniors. So-called leaders
should assist in this effort.
The new Medicare bill is not
the panacea that will cure all the ills of the American health
care system, but - like man landing on the moon - it is one giant
leap in the right direction.
Council Nedd II is a member
of the black leadership network Project 21 and the executive
director of the Alliance for Health Education and Development.
Dr. Lesie O. Anderson is director of community, health and inner
city ministries emeritus for the Northern California Conference
of Seventh-Day-Adventists. Comments may be sent to Project21@nationalcenter.org.
Published by The National Center for Public Policy Research.
Reprints permitted provided source is credited. New Visions Commentaries
reflect the views of their author, and not necessarily those
of Project 21.
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