So long to the safety net

Joan B. Lee is a member of the Sacramento chapter of the Gray Panthers

Senior advocates have an important message to send to those planning on retiring in the next 25 years, the baby boomers. It is vital that we urge both the California and federal government to return to a meaningful social policy, one that has its roots in comprehensive Social Security and Medicare programs.

Otherwise, look for the total collapse of the safety net that has served seniors and others so well for the past 75 years.

Do you know that employer-sponsored retirement plans are on the wane and that employers are looking for ways to avoid paying prescription benefits? Or that the feds, under pressure from a $139 million pharmaceutical lobbying effort, recently enacted a Medicare drug reform bill?

That bill, passed in the wee hours of the night, was a game of smoke and mirrors meant to turn control of your future benefits over to the pharmaceutical industry. Large numbers of seniors and disabled persons today are being forced to purchase corporate prescription drug cards at an average of $30 a month, without any assurance they will be able to get the drugs they were promised.

Meanwhile, costs for Big Pharma’s prescription drugs have risen 50 percent in the last five years. Drug cards are means-tested, something seniors have always felt is a dangerous precedent, and they limit us to drugs sold only by the card-sponsoring company. Most seniors will end up paying just as much or more than ever for their drugs.

The real problem is twofold: The pharmaceutical industry is unwilling to make an honest effort to curb prices, and the federal government is unable to buck those lobbyists, refusing even to talk about price controls.

Here in California, advocates support a series of measures that would send a message to the federal government. These bills would help Californians find relief through authorized Canadian drug purchases, the use of pooled purchasing power and Internet assistance in locating the best prices from reputable dealers.

Don’t wait a few years for the sudden realization that you have been sold out! Help us support legislative change and seek redress from the corporate abuses of Big Pharma. Advocates from groups like Gray Panthers, the Older Women’s League and the Congress of California Seniors ask you to join in seeking a social policy that will offer secure lives and the best health care available.