Ailing Seniors Need Dignity

What’s wrong with us? Our nation’s moral compass, I mean.

I don’t like being a downer, just focusing on wrongs, but some wrongs stand out as morally abominable, such as this one.

It’s about hundreds of thousands of our low-income elders who, toward the end of life — when they’re frail and most vulnerable — find themselves cast into a part of the Medicaid system that has been deliberately structured by Congress to subject them to needless deprivations and daily indignities.

These are our loved ones with serious health problems who need long-term care in nursing homes, and two-thirds of them rely on Medicaid to cover their costs. To get this benefit, they surrender all of their income, which goes to defray their nursing home expenses.

Of course, for a decent existence beyond mere survival, we all rely on a few little things that are basic to our humanity. The government authorizes each state to set a monthly “personal needs allowance,” so elderly patients can cover their hygiene and grooming products, a book or CD, a small gift for grandchildren, a chocolate bar, etc.
Good! But then Mr. Mingy walked in.

In 1987, Congress set the minimum for this allowance at a meager $30 a month –- under $8 a week! Congress has not raised it in the 36 years since. And most states still provide only a pittance, despite inflation and monopoly price gouging on practically everything.

So, our state and national “leaders” (who freely dole out massive corporate subsidies and tax giveaways to billionaires) are leaving ill seniors with so little spending money that they must ration their toothpaste and scrimp pennies to buy a rare treat from the vending machine.

I know this is small in the global scale of human indignities, but that makes it an even bigger moral failure for our society. It would take so little to do so much for so many.

James Hightower is an American syndicated columnist, progressive political activist, and author.