Health Care Access, Costs Paramount for Retirees

Article excerpt

CHICAGO (AP) - The first three years of retirement were a frightening experience for Peggy Lambert. She was repeatedly denied proper health insurance because of pre-existing health problems.

It's a nightmare scenario for millions of older Americans, only with a good ending in this case.

"All I can say is that when I turned 65 it was one of the happiest days of my life because I could go on Medicare and then get supplemental insurance," said the retired registered nurse from Maryville, Tenn., now 67.

Predicaments like Lambert's underscore why health care is a primary concern among retirees nationwide, regardless of income level or political affiliation. Lambert and her husband enjoy a "very comfortable" income in retirement and she is a national committeewoman-elect of the Republican Party.

The Associated Press interviewed a handful of retiree delegates to the Republican convention to sample their views on health care and other issues that most concern them.

Not all would put health care at the top of the list - just as Republicans and Democrats disagree on how to address soaring medical costs.

But AARP, the organization for older Americans, says access to affordable quality health care and lifetime economic security are by far the two most important issues for its members and for retirees.

"The real problem with the health care system is just skyrocketing costs," said spokesman Jim Dau. "People get incredibly anxious about 'Do I have enough?'"

It's an important question because the United States has the highest per-capita health care spending of any nation.

Health insurance premiums have increased 72 percent since 2001 and Medicare premiums have doubled in the same time, according to the AARP.

Dau warns that many people underestimate their health care costs under Medicare and that substantial resources are still needed.

"Medicare only covers on average half of your out-of-pocket expenses," he said. "So for people who think 'I made it to 65, I qualify for Medicare, I'll be OK,' they could be looking at a rude wake-up."

It was high risk as much as high cost that prevented Lambert and her husband John, 68, from getting the insurance they needed.

Selling their rock quarry business five years ago, which cost them access to group insurance, proved to be a mistake because insurers wouldn't give them individual policies due to John's history of cancer, their age and other health issues.

After a period with no coverage, they ultimately had to go to a high-risk insurance company and pay more than $500 a month for a policy that entitled them to hospital admission but maximum coverage of $25,000 - a ceiling that can be reached quickly with a serious ailment. …