As the COVID-19 pandemic rages in America, our senior citizens face extraordinary risks. In fact, 80 percent of coronavirus deaths in America are people over the age of 65. In spite of that, Donald Trump and his Republican allies are continuing their endless war against Americans’ health care. And it’s our seniors who are most at risk.
Trump and Republicans have spent years systematically sabotaging seniors’ health care, and now, more than ever, their lives are literally on the line. Between undermining Medicaid expansion and proposing steep Medicare budget cuts to prescription drug price increases and repeated attempts to repeal the Affordable Care Act, Trump has done nothing for older Americans but cause them to lose coverage and pay higher costs for care. At a time when millions of insured people are facing the possibility of coronavirus infection and devastating health care bills, the need for critical health care programs like Medicare and Medicaid has never been more important.
Specifically, nearly 40 million people across the country have already lost their jobs, and an estimated 27 million have lost their employer-sponsored coverage as a result of the crisis. Economists have estimated that up to 43 million people could lose their job-based coverage during the pandemic. Outrageously, Trump and the Republicans backing him have eroded America’s health care safety net, which will undoubtedly devastate families and hamper efforts to curb the spread of this deadly disease.
To make matters worse, seniors are at high risk of developing serious complications if they contract COVID-19. In Maine, 47 percent of known cases are among Mainers 50 and older. Despite the dire warnings from experts, Trump and Republican lawmakers across the country have prioritized reopening the economy while sacrificing the health and safety of our nation’s most vulnerable people.
The fact is that older adults face unique risks as the country grapples with this health care crisis. We know from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the groups “at high-risk for severe illness from COVID19” are people 65 years old and older and those who live in nursing homes and long-term care facilities. Ahead of the pandemic, the Trump administration weakened the federal government’s oversight of nursing homes and rolled back critical protections for residents.
Now, nursing homes and long-term care facilities across the country have experienced a surge in outbreaks, with about one-third of deaths in America associated with these facilities. More than half of Maine’s deaths have occurred among residents of long-term care facilities. In fact, the state’s largest outbreak is at the Augusta Center for Health and Rehabilitation, which has experienced at least 76 infections and seven deaths. Another 68 cases have been associated with an outbreak at Cape Memory Care in Cape Elizabeth.
The novel coronavirus is also a threat to millions of seniors and older adults who live outside of institutions and may be exposed through work, family members or caregivers. Roughly 47 million older adults in this country are aging in place. More than 7 million seniors are considered medically frail, 60 percent have at least two chronic conditions, such as heart disease or diabetes, which are serious factors for developing complications from COVID-19. And we know that nearly 32 million people aged 55-64 have pre-existing conditions. The current rush to reopen prematurely puts older workers at risk before their workplaces are safe again.
While the Trump Administration continues their war on seniors’ health care, Democrats have proven they understand the complex needs of health care for older Americans, and have taken concrete action to lower costs and help them during this crisis. Democrats in Congress have a plan to lower prescription drug prices by empowering Medicare to negotiate with pharmaceutical companies for lower drug costs. They also have a plan to strengthen the Affordable Care Act with a special enrollment period during the pandemic and to provide incentives to states which have yet to do so to expand Medicaid. America’s seniors, and all who love them, desperately need President Trump and Republicans to end their assault on America’s health care. Now.
Don Berry of Sumner is the president of the Maine Chapter of Alliance for Retired Americans.