'Grandma' Green lobbies support for prescription benefit

Tuesday, August 26, 2003

The word spry doesn't begin to do Grandma Green justice. The 81-year-old spokeswoman for the Seniors Coalition and grandmother of 24 is downright feisty.

"It's not her keeping up with us," said her 20-something assistant Clint Gordon-Carroll. "It's us keeping up with her. She's so energetic. Nothing fazes her. She doesn't quit."

That's good considering Flora "Grandma" Green's latest mission -- to get a prescription drug plan included in the Medicare program. All summer she's been traveling across the country in a 37-foot motorcoach to encourage the elderly to get involved in the fight.

Green took that message to the senior centers in Cape Girardeau and Jackson on Monday. Today, she plans to gather a group of seniors and take them to U.S. Rep. Jo Ann Emerson's Cape Girardeau office to thank Emerson for voting on the bill and to ask for her continued support.

"No one ever thought we'd live this long," Green told the group of about 30 or so people at the Cape Girardeau Senior Center. "But we have. And with all the medical advances that keep us alive, the costs of prescription medications have gotten expensive. We need to speak up."

Green and the coalition that pays her are promoting the Medicare prescription drug bill currently being debated in Congress. The Seniors Coalition describes itself as America's largest free-market seniors' advocacy organization with nearly 4 million supporters who pay $10 a year in dues.

Both the House and Senate have approved different versions of the plan, though both are estimated to cost the government about $400 billion over 10 years to add prescription coverage to Medicare.

But the coalition and Green are afraid that the legislation, supported by President Bush, will crumble under the weight of politics as it has in the past and get stalled in the committee stage.

Some experts have predicted that nothing will get done this year, blaming party politics, complex and confusing language and some senior unhappiness.

'The help we need'

Green aims to see that doesn't happen.

"This bill is a step in the right direction," she said. "It will give us the help we need. This is our year and we won't let Congress let us down again."

In Cape Girardeau, the reaction to Green's message was mixed.

"I think it would be good," said James Hayes, 89, of Cape Girardeau. "I don't take any medicines, but I'd like to know that they're there if I need them."

Several agreed. Hayes and others signed petitions that were distributed at the center. Gordon-Carroll said they hoped to get between 150 and 300 signatures at the two centers to present to Emerson today. Elmer Cook, 78, of Benton, Mo., said he liked the plan, too.

"But it won't happen," he said. "The government won't ever go through with it, because it will cost them too much money. They'll only do it if they're forced."

Cook said he might call Emerson to show his support.

Not everyone was so inclined. Some worried that they might lose private health insurance benefits if Medicare is broadened with a prescription drug benefit.

"I want this for everyone else, but I don't need it," said Anna Marie Daume, 81, who lives in Cape Girardeau County. "I don't want them to take away what I have."

Daume said she takes several pills daily for a variety of maladies, including medicine for her diabetes and high blood pressure. She also has to medicate herself to regulate her heart rhythms.

"It's expensive," she said. "But my husband had a good plan. I appreciate what I have."

On average, seniors receive $600 per month in Social Security benefits, according to the coalition. Of that, they spend about $300 on prescription pills, the association says. Under the proposed plans, Medicare would pick up 50 to 70 percent of those medication costs.

'I don't want it'

But Raymond Leadbetter isn't buying it.

The 66-year-old Cape Girardeau resident wasn't convinced after hearing Green's spiel either, saying he remains flatly opposed to it.

"Lord no, I don't like it," said Leadbetter. "If this goes through, it will hurt our private insurance."

Leadbetter said he was afraid that private insurers would cut off benefits once the government gets in the prescription medication business.

"Insurance won't cover us as well," he said. "We'd get one thing, then get knocked in the head with another. I don't want it. We need to look at this eyeball to eyeball instead of asking people to sign petitions and promising the world."

Gordon-Carroll said that fear about effects on private insurance is the No. 1 complaint he hears from seniors. He said that safeguards could be added to the bills to make sure that doesn't happen.

Green said she agrees.

"I have a perfectly fine insurance plan," she said before working the room of seniors. "But I think we should have choices."

After 30 years in the private sector, Green, a Salt Lake City native, has been working for the coalition for three years, championing such issues as the dangers of drug reimportation, tort reform and other Medicare issues.

"I've always been concerned with social issues," she said. "Especially when people need help. I also want to do whatever I can to make sure seniors stay involved with the issues that affect them."


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