A red-white-and-blue Medicare Health Insurance card arrived in the mail with my name on it, even though I thought Medicare was for old people. Does this mean I’m old?
Well, yes and no.
When LBJ launched Medicare in 1966, my grandmother was sixty-six and qualified. I was ten and considered my thirteen-year-old brother old, but Grandma was another whole order of old: She had gray hair, wrinkled skin, and she wore a girdle. She was the mother of a grown-up: my mother. But Grandma was old only on account of her life expectancy, which was 73.1 years. She died aged 73.6.
Her daughter (my mother) was born in 1925. Mom wasn’t nearly as old as Grandma when her Medicare Insurance Card arrived in the mail. She was only sixty-five, retired, and skied weeks at a time in Vermont, Europe, Canada and the American West. When she turned sixty-five in 1990, she was expected to live another twelve years; she lived another twenty-two.
A white woman my age in 2021, will live to 85 on average – that’s more than a third of what I’ve lived so far. I’ve had better healthcare than my mother and am generally healthier. Barring a catastrophic accident, I’m likely to beat the odds like my father and live into my nineties.
It would seem that Medicare – the brainchild of President Harry S. Truman, who called for the creation of a national health insurance fund in 1945 – has expanded coverage simply by dint of Americans’ longevity. If the program can expand by default, imagine what could be done with planning. Coverage could be expanded to all Americans.
The piece of card stock that came in the mail is not even laminated. As I stare at the flimsy card with my name and an unfamiliar alpha-numeric Medicare Number, I can answer my own question: I’m mature, not old. I’m also very lucky: I have good health and good health insurance, both.
Set against the 1964 presidential election as it played out in Vermont, Into the Wilderness tells the story of two political opposites in their mid-sixties who find common ground and love.
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