Many of the resources that aging people need aren’t paid for by insurance. 8

from book

For most older people, the ability to function is more important than life itself. In a recent study of elderly patients with serious illness, the “inability to get out of bed” and “needing around-the-clock care” were listed as worse than death. But in the United States, many of the resources that would help aging individuals remain independent – such as walkers, hearing aids, dentures and glasses – are considered “nonmedical.” Therefore, health-insurance providers don’t cover them. If you’re rich, you can afford these things. Those on Medicaid – the US government’s health-care insurance program for low-income Americans – may also have access to them. But most people are neither very rich nor very poor. Nonetheless, they’re forced to foot the often sizable bill. By defining treatments as “medical” and assistive devices – hearing aids, glasses and so on – as “nonmedical,” the United States puts patients in a confusing position. For instance, it’s possible to get laser eye surgery, but not the far simpler solution – glasses. Likewise, you can get a cochlear implant when what you actually need is a hearing aid. How did this happen? Well, it’s political. American health care classifies high-priced, surgical interventions as “medical” because they benefit the industries that produce pharmaceuticals and medical devices. These industries, in turn, support political candidates who agree to uphold this taxonomy. Knowing that this support will get them reelected, these politicians don’t fight for a reclassification of assistive devices – hearing aids, glasses and so on – as “medical.” As things stand today, old age is defined by just such injustices. In the United States, the current medical system is designed to cure diseases, not provide care that might prevent their development. Meanwhile, Western society defines “looking good” as “looking young.” If we don’t challenge these prejudices, both personal and political, we can’t be surprised if they negatively impact our own elderhood.