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 is given.

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 procedures.

Like the space program back then, Medicare still offers hope. It protects millions from financial catastrophe.

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 gone down.

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 [email protected].

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.

Project 21, a leading voice of black conservatives for over 25 years, is sponsored by the National Center for Public Policy Research. Its members have been quoted, interviewed or published over 40,000 times since the program was created in 1992. Contributions to the National Center are tax-deductible and greatly appreciated, and may be earmarked exclusively for the use of Project 21.