U-Turn or Love in the Time of Medicare

First thought was no need to rant on about this. But how many people are well versed in the area of senior romance? The number is increasing I’m sure of it but Social security/Medicare didn’t get the memo.

Here’s the scoop from the inside. News flash: When Social Security was established marriage until death was the norm. Oh yeah, they set up rules for divorce but they were draconian. After a ten-year marriage, you can collect on your x-spouse’s work record assuming you don’t have enough credits to qualify. If you re-marry, it’s too bad for you social security stops. Doesn’t sound awful on the face of it.  BUT Medicare is tied to social security therefore no social security NO Medicare. We’re talking seniors here. By the time you’re ancient enough to collect social security you probably really need Medicare.

But you’re thinking you can qualify under your new spouse. Not so fast!  There are rules there too. One you have to be married a full year. Two I don’t really get actually the lady at the social security office didn’t either. The rule was some convoluted expression of the status and length of your intendeds divorce, widowed state etc. It was impossible to follow. So Medicare stops for that fateful year.

Now imagine that you are the fortunate beneficiary of one of the new biologic medicines engineered to help arthritis. You’ve probably seen the Enbrel ads and noted the improved golf swing of Phil Mickelson. What the ad doesn’t say concerns the PRICE.  Enbrel costs around $24,000.00 a year. Pardon me, but If I pay for that out of pocket I will have sold my dogs, my car, my jewelry, and my new spouse.

You probably see where this is going.  Increasingly seniors are not remarrying when the chance comes around. There are several ways ‘around’ this. There is the Commitment Ceremony. That just doesn’t do it for me. Don’t like the sound of it and other strange and obscure reasons. Then comes another option. Lie. Yes, have a church wedding just neglect to tell the attendees that it’s not legal. Or forget it and just co-habit unapologetically.  That was our solution until my fiancée had a positively brilliant idea. This idea makes a subsequent divorce unnecessary, negates the need for a church wedding and other creative and otherwise unsatisfying and loaded solutions.

We are getting ‘Engaged for Life.’ There will be a ceremony. Our venue will be a public beach in Maui. Since we’re making it up as we go, I have an engagement ring and we will exchange bands. The officiants are actually licensed and ordained in California but not in Maui. They just happen to be my oldest son and his wife.  This family provides full service for weddings and Engagement for Life ceremonies (easier to say EFL.) My oldest grandson, their son, has a photography business. He is the photographer and videographer. My daughter-in-law is a beautician.

There we’ll be on a Maui beach near sunset surrounded by family, pounding surf and whoever happens to go to that beach on ‘our’ day. We’re making up the whole service. My fiancée is Jewish. It’s a happy co-incidence that said eldest son blows a shofar with style. This resonating sound will begin and end our ceremony what’s in-between is spontaneous. (A shofar is a ram’s horn. When you hear one blowing, you can understand why the walls of ‘Jericho came a tumblin’ down.)  There will be ukulele there as well. I can envision a grand-child duet. I guess I need to tell them.

Best of all, there’s no mechanism for invalidating an EFL couple. You are STUCK! You can’t get a divorce. There must be an absolute commitment to working it out. You have to promise to keep the romance and laughing and singing going forever. You also need to practice thankfulness for this miracle of love.

I think there are two questions we have to ask ourselves. Do the Social Security’s rules on remarriage of divorced women qualify as elder abuse? Or does this loss of Social Security and Medicare create a new side to women’s rights?

I come from a generation that encouraged women to work but a good number of us didn’t hold down regular jobs. We married early, had kids, and worked here and there. We were called homemakers or stay at home Moms. I finished my B.A. when the kids were still in school. However the M.F.A. waited until the youngest left for college. The big discussion there was how tough is it to get a graduate degree when you’re 50 or 60? Is it worth it? Many of my professors who had gotten doctorates in their 50’s advised me to forget it. It’s just too tough.

All of this led to the most loaded question; Can a woman have it all? This question arose from under-grads in a class on Victorian literature.  In that era, The Angel in the House by Coventry Patmore created an ideal for a married woman that was difficult if not impossible to live up to. We graduate students were mostly older with children in college. We were not nor did we aspire to be an angel in the house. We agreed that yes, you could have it all just not at the same time.

Listening to NPR a few days ago, I discovered the question of having it all is still being asked. One young woman, whose mother had tried to have it all at once, aspired to live her own life with time for home and child and projects of her choice. She didn’t want the pressure of a high- powered career. It’s odd isn’t it that woman fought so hard for the right to have a career and family and now some of the children who grew up with those career mothers who ‘had it all’ want the life their Mothers fought to leave behind?

I believe there’s a difference. Women seem more valued regardless of their chosen path. We were so frowned at in the 70’s and 80’s for being homemakers that friends and I when asked our occupation replied, “Domestic Engineer.”

I observe the poet’s habit of mind called ‘free association’ has expanded my topic. But so it is with social issues, nothing happens in isolation. All is a Collective Called Life.

About Winding Stream Press

Janice DeRuiter Eskridge, M.F.A. is a poet who worked for over a decade as a poet-teacher for California Poets in the Schools. Helen Shoemaker, Ph.D. L.M.F.T. is a university professor who teaches in the areas of child development and counseling. She is also a therapist in private practice.
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3 Responses to U-Turn or Love in the Time of Medicare

  1. I was a homemaker for 15 years. Because of that gap in my work-for-pay life I face a drastically reduced SS benefit upon retirement. We live with an economic system that penalizes anyone, male or female, who chooses family over career.


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