The fine line

by mymothersbrain

For Americans who make up the working poor when young, the senior years often blur the line between living and surviving. If you read or watch any kind of news you know that there are countless seniors out there who must make a choice daily between buying groceries and buying needed medicines. They must choose between paying an electric bill or going to the doctor. They must make the choice, while they are ill and not able to think clearly, of how to pay for medical procedures that aren’t a choice anymore. My family is finding that out firsthand.

According to one oral surgeon in El Paso, it will cost $3,600 to extract my mom’s teeth. That includes only the pulling of her teeth. Because we need to do this in a hospital, there will be hospital fees, as well, and I can only guess at what hidden costs will find their way to her mailbox in the form of bills. Here is the thing: my mother is well below the national poverty line and coming up with $3,600, while not an impossibility, will be quite taxing. We three adult children could pool our resources though we all have our own struggles and it won’t be easy. We could borrow the money against her house. We can try to get a signature loan. Hell, I can use a credit card. But the fact is that no matter what, my mother at least has family who can help, if not financially, then at least by researching social services that might be able to help her. (I spent several hours yesterday and a few more this morning doing research online and making phone calls in an effort to find a place that can treat my mother quickly, and that she/we can afford.)

According to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, the 2009 poverty guidelines for the 48 contiguous states and the District of Columbia range from $10,830 for a family of one (such as my mother) to $37,010 for a family of eight. I can tell you that my mother’s monthly income, which includes supplemental Social Security and Medicaid, falls significantly below the nearly $11,000 that designates her being below the poverty line. Sadly, she is not alone. Consider some of the 2005-2007 Census statistics for El Paso County, where she lives:

Of the nearly 743,000 people who live in El Paso’s metropolitan area, 28.2 percent are below the poverty level. 22.1 percent of people over 65 are below the poverty level. That’s just in one city. And that’s the government-designated line. The reality is that poverty is something difficult to designate with a line or a number. You may earn just enough to feed your kids, but one serious financial setback — a car accident, a serious illness, the loss of a job — can plunge you into homelessness.

In the end, $3,600 is a lot of money for us. But we’ll figure it out. What I wonder is this: what about those who have no family to help? And how far away are we really from a national crisis due to our aging population’s needs? Personally, I think it’s here.

A link to the Census page I accessed: