Guest Columnist

The pandemic is ruining the quality of life for Iowa seniors

And bad public policy is making it worse

Judie Shape, center, who has tested positive for the COVID-19 coronavirus, visits with her son-in-law, Michael Spencer,
Judie Shape, center, who has tested positive for the COVID-19 coronavirus, visits with her son-in-law, Michael Spencer, left, and her daughter, Lori Spencer, right, Wednesday, March 11, 2020, as they look at each other through a window at the Life Care Center in Kirkland, Wash., near Seattle. In-person visits are not allowed at the nursing home, which is at the center of the outbreak of the COVID-19 coronavirus in Washington state. For most people, the new coronavirus causes only mild or moderate symptoms. For some it can cause more severe illness, especially in older adults and people with existing health problems. (AP Photo/Ted S. Warren)

As the COVID19 pandemic rages in America, older Americans face extraordinary risks. In fact, eighty percent of coronavirus deaths in America are people over the age of 65. But despite that fact, Donald Trump and his Republican allies have never ceased their endless war against Americans’ health care. And it’s our seniors who are most at risk.

President Donald Trump and his Republican allies have spent years systematically sabotaging seniors’ health care. He has undermined Medicaid expansion, preventing access to affordable health insurance to thousands of Iowans. He has done nothing to lower prescription drug prices, which have increased 5 percent just in 2020.

The ongoing attacks on the Affordable Care Act would hurt older Americans directly — reopening the prescription drug ‘doughnut hole,’ eliminating the free preventive care benefits and eliminating protections for older Americans who do not yet qualify for Medicare.

Especially during the coronavirus pandemic, the federal government should expand access to health care, not make it more difficult and expensive to get.

Nearly 40 million people across the country have lost their jobs since the outbreak began, and an estimated 27 million have lost their employer-sponsored coverage with it. 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 devastate families and hamper efforts to curb the spread of this deadly disease.

We also know that older Americans are at the highest risk of developing serious complications if they contract COVID19. In Iowa, 88 percent of deaths have been among people aged 60 and older. Despite the dire warnings from experts, President Donald 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.

Most tragic of all is the price paid by the most vulnerable seniors, those living in nursing homes, and long-term care facilities. Even before the pandemic, the Trump administration rolled back nursing home safety and health protections, putting residents at risk. We see the result of these failures every day. Nearly one-third of all Americans who have died from COVID-19 lived in nursing homes. And as of May 21, long-term care facilities accounted for 55 percent of statewide COVID-19 deaths in Iowa with more than 1,500 cases reported in Iowa nursing homes.

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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, sixty percent have at least two chronic conditions, such as heart disease or diabetes, which are serious factors for developing complications from COVID19. And we know that nearly 32 million people aged 55-64 have preexisting conditions. The current rush to reopen prematurely puts older workers at risk before workplaces are safe again.

In contrast, the House of Representatives has passed several bills to strengthen the health of older Americans during and after the crisis. From a bill directing Medicare to negotiate with lower drug prices on behalf of all Americans to strengthen the Affordable Care Act with a special enrollment period during the pandemic to providing incentives to states to expand Medicaid and give more people access to the health care they need. America’s seniors deserve better and need help now.

Mike McCarthy is the President of the Iowa Alliance for Retired Americans,

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