Medicare is America’s gold health standard, right? It is a shining example of success, eclipsing its fraternal twin, Medicaid, to the extent that health-care proposals not clearly related to either are rather successfully branded as “Medicare-for-all.”
However, elderly women might be the first to question that characterization. Medicare alone has proved inadequate for the needs of many elderly people, especially in the ranks of the “oldest old,” or those over 85 years of age. And given the drastic gender imbalance in life expectancy and a range of health and economic factors that hit women harder, the gulf in elderly health care becomes a women’s health issue as well.
First of all, the good. In just over 50 years of existence, Medicare has been the key force behind America’s health-care modernization, changing not only the way the country delivers health but also dramatically reducing poverty rates by providing a cushion between retired seniors and the ever-widening abyss of health-care costs.
An article in Generations: Journal of the American Society on Aging published last year indicates that this explicit lifeline for seniors was also an implicit lifeline for women. Women have always lived longer than men, but of course they have never received the same employment benefits. Medicare and its partner, Social Security, helped provide women with guaranteed income during their longer lifespans, accommodated somewhat for lower or nonexistent pension funds, and provided some stability after the likely probability of widowhood. As women have also always been much poorer than men, the poverty-lifting effects of Medicare were felt most along gender lines.