By PAULA ALEXANDER | Arkansas Advocate
Arkansans like me are concerned with Republican plans to cut Medicare and Social Security in the next Congress. I know what it’s like to not have access to health care, and I cannot go back to that reality.
In 2011, I became violently ill while traveling back from a road trip along the east coast. Suddenly, I became extremely fatigued and could barely breathe.
My friend pulled off the highway and took me to the nearest doctor’s office. My blood pressure was dangerously elevated, and the doctor prescribed me a month’s worth of blood pressure medication. I told him I was worried that the drug’s side effects could worsen my exhaustion.
“Would you rather be tired or dead?” he responded.
That was a wake-up call for me. I had hypertension and, if I didn’t get treatment, I would be risking a heart attack or a stroke.
While I initially toiled over whether or not to take the medication, that decision was ultimately made for me because I was unable to afford the expensive prescription. By that point, my preexisting mobility issues had worsened due to scoliosis, and it had become difficult for me to work.
I wasn’t legally considered disabled and I was too young to collect Social Security, so I found ways to generate just enough income to survive. Still, I was unable to afford prescriptions or even a trip to the doctor. Every day, I prayed that my blood pressure wouldn’t kill me. I went the next several years without my blood pressure medications.
In 2014, after securing health care coverage through an ACA marketplace plan, I could finally afford the medications necessary to keep me healthy. Now, at 69-years-old, I rely on Medicare for my health insurance, like millions of seniors across the country. Medicare covers the full cost of my drugs — if it didn’t, I wouldn’t possibly be able to afford them.
Social Security also helps me to survive. The checks I get from Social Security each month — a little less than $1,000 — allow me to pay for the essentials: my rent, utilities, and food.
Recently, Democrats in Congress took action to strengthen Medicare by passing the Inflation Reduction Act, which grants Medicare the ability to negotiate prescription prices on behalf of seniors and caps individual out-of-pocket drug expenses at $2,000 a year. This legislation will not only help seniors save money, it will also reduce the government deficit by saving Medicare money.
In contrast, MAGA Republicans are trying to repeal the parts of the Inflation Reduction Act that would save seniors money on prescriptions and threatening to weaken Medicare and Social Security through funding cuts or privatization. Arkansas Sen. Tom Cotton, for his part, has previously backed plans to change Social Security eligibility and essentially turn Medicare into a voucher system.
If MAGA Republicans succeed in cutting Social Security and Medicare, I will instantly become homeless and uninsured. Without my Social Security benefits, I would not be able to pay my rent, and I would have no one to take me in.
These programs exist for a reason; before Medicare and Social Security, seniors without a hefty retirement fund starved and died. Slashing or privatizing Social Security would cause poverty and homelessness to skyrocket to levels not seen since the Great Depression. There would be seniors on the streets. I would be one of them.
Seniors like me paid into Medicare and Social Security for decades. We were promised that these programs would provide a measure of security as we entered retirement — and we counted on those guarantees. To take away this security would be a historic betrayal of America’s seniors and a disservice to future generations.
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