By CARL GREEN
Belleville – Last month marked the 50th anniversary of Medicare, and in the Metro East, it fell to some retired Steelworkers to speak up for that highly valued but much beleaguered program.
Members of SOAR (Steelworkers Organization of Active Retirees) Chapter 7-34-2 joined in a nationwide campaign to celebrate the anniversary by reminding members of Congress how important Medicare is and that efforts to water it down must be stopped.
Chapter President Jeff Rains, members George Snyder and Marlene Carey and Vice President Dennis Barker decided to seek out the offices of U.S. Rep. Mike Bost, a Republican whose district includes the working-class towns of Alton, Belleville, Granite City and East St. Louis.
It almost didn’t happen. Working with the Illinois Alliance for Retired Americans, the group obtained a lovely union-made birthday cake from Schnucks and set out to deliver it to Bost’s office in Granite City.
The only problem was that Bost doesn’t have an office in Granite City, although his website, as of that morning, said it did.
The district’s past members of Congress – all Democrats – kept an office in the Granite City Township building on Delmar Avenue downtown.
It’s a classic community center for working people, home to senior citizen programs, summertime meals for children and the township offices. The cake would have made a nice addition to lunch.
According to Bost’s website, it is also the site of his office for that city. But when Rains and his team arrived, there was nobody there, nor any indication that the office was being used.
So the SOAR group decided to try again, at Bost’s Belleville office, high in a bank building, where the look is a bit more upscale – men in ties, well-dressed women in heels. No kids, no seniors.
Unperturbed, the four took the cake up the elevator and into Bost’s corporate-style office, where young field representative Dustin Rhodes was holding down the fort.
Rhodes graciously invited the group to meet with him in the conference room, and Rains finally got to make his pitch to save Medicare, with the rep taking notes and asking questions.
“I think the Congressman needs to really bone up on it and look at what’s happened with Medicare in 50 years,” Rains told him. “It’s been a very successful program. We don’t need it to be fixed.
“They could do some things better, that’s fine. But some of the better things are not raising the age when people can get on Medicare, because we in the industrial workplace know that that’s not a viable option.
“We’re on fixed incomes, and we also don’t need $50 a month more taken out for Medicare Part B,” Rains added. “Most of us have got our budgets. We know what we can afford, and we can’t afford more of that. We’re being hammered.”
Rhodes didn’t have much to say about Bost’s positions on healthcare, but Illinois Alliance for Retired Americans President Barbara Franklin sent along a summary, and it wasn’t pretty:
“As Medicare celebrates its 50th year, there is a continuing push by some politicians like Rep. Mike Bost to dismantle the program,” she said. “Retirees in our area are struggling to get by, but they know how much worse things would be without Medicare.
“Rep. Bost has not been on the side of retirees when it comes to Medicare, and we hope that he will use this anniversary as an opportunity for re-thinking his positions. Retirees need to speak up about Medicare to make sure that it is preserved for future generations,” she concluded.
According to the Alliance, various proposals in Congress would damage Medicare by:
• Turning Medicare into a voucher program, replacing actual benefits with a limited stipend for purchasing private insurance.
• Increasing use of means testing, considered an attack on the middle class because it would affect people making as little as $47,000. Parts B and D already have means testing for those earning $85,000 or more.
• Shifting costs to seniors by eliminating first-dollar coverage, adding surcharges to those with Medigap coverage and adding co-pays for home health care.
• Raising the eligibility age to 67, which would force seniors to either keep working, pay for expensive private coverage or even impoverish themselves to become eligible for Medicaid.
There is one plan the Alliance supports – requiring drug companies to provide discounts to Medicare for low-income beneficiaries to save taxpayers something like $121 billion over a decade.
HE’S NOT THERE
For the record, Bost’s website remains littered with references to the Granite City Township address, where he does not operate.
In one press release, he states: “From Day One, I said I would do all I could to be the accessible Representative the 12th Congressional District deserves.”
Later in that same release, he gives the Township building’s address as his Granite City location, along with the bare minimum time the office allots to Granite City – 1 to 4:30 p.m. on the third Thursday of each month.
According to Bost’s staffers, that session is actually held at City Hall. They said they would look into the problem with the website. For their information, City Hall is at 2000 Edison Avenue.