Tuesday, August 02, 2005

Tangled Web

This will be the most personal blog post I ever make. Not that I hide behind the keyboard completely, but it is wise to make some balance of anonymity and reality-based commentary. Tonight, I break that wall.

My parents are in their early middle sixties. They have both worked and paid into the government retirement system for forty years. For ten years they worked overseas, made a bit of money, which they proceeded to spend with abandon. They had a large retirement account they expected to carry them through the end of their lives, and lived accordingly.

Unfortunately, the stock market crashed, they did not react quickly enough, and most of their savings were lost. They looked for work, found some contract stuff, and made a bit more money. But by age 65 my father needed to take social security and Medicare. My mother, three years younger, qualified for social security, but not healthcare. The premiums on their private insurance were near $1000 a month ( 1/4 their income) so she dropped coverage, betting she would stay healthy for three years.

My mother has just been diagnosed with stage 4 breast cancer. She had a check-up just before she dropped her insurance, which was clear, but did not go to the doctor afterward because she did not have insurance. By the time the cancer was found, it had invaded her lymph nodes and traveled throughout her body. There is no cure; she will die in the next few years from a disease that could have been corrected if caught earlier.

My brother and I would like to help our parents, but have been warned that if we guarantee anything, we will be held responsible for the lot, which would bankrupt us. And so my parents will declare bankruptcy in the next few days, to pay for her treatment.

This is a cautionary tale. There are many things my parents could have done better. They should have watched their savings and spending. My mom should have found better supplemental insurance, rather than betting on good health. But in the end of days, our government, the richest in the world, should have been there for my parents. Why is there a gap between when one can take social security and when one is eligible for Medicare? Why do my parents have to lose everything that they own to pay for the healthcare that she so desperately needs?

I'm left with these final thoughts: don't retire until you absolutely must; watch your money like a hawk; and the United States must have a healthcare system that protects its citizens from the devastation that will me my mother's final days.