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Commentary Health Care

Opinion: Health Care for People, Not for Profit

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By Tiffany Jones

The writer is a civil rights advocate and lifelong resident of Baltimore City running for Democratic Central Committee in District 45. 

Johns Hopkins Medicine recently made the callous decision to cut nearly 6,000 seniors in Baltimore City and Calvert County from its Hopkins Medicare Advantage plan, leaving many elderly Marylanders scrambling to find new health care coverage on a short timeline.

Among those left confused and worried by the impending loss of their Hopkins Medicare Advantage plans were my parents, longtime residents of East Baltimore. In early October, they received letters in the mail from Hopkins indicating their current plans would not be offered in 2022. The letters notified them their Medicare Advantage coverage would be terminated with the start of the new year.

My mother retired from Johns Hopkins Hospital in early 2020 after working there for more than 40 years. She first joined the hospital’s housekeeping staff in 1978 and continued to serve in different roles there throughout her adult life.

By the time she retired from the hospital, she worked as a processing technician, cleaning and sterilizing medical instruments. Over the four decades my mother was employed by Hopkins, she almost never took a day off.

Workers like my mother are the people who keep Johns Hopkins Hospital and its affiliate medical facilities running, so we were shocked and outraged when she received notice that she would be dropped from the Medicare Advantage plan at the end of the year.

The decision by Hopkins to end this coverage leaves many retirees and workers like my mother, who have given decades of their lives to Johns Hopkins institutions, vulnerable in the middle of a pandemic.

Hopkins’ representatives have noted that the decision to end Medicare Advantage coverage for Baltimore City and Calvert County residents reflects concerns about program costs. But why is Johns Hopkins, one of the most powerful institutions in Maryland with an $8.8 billion reported endowment, choosing to cut costs at the expense of retired longtime employees?

For my parents, the greatest challenge has been finding a new Medicare Advantage plan that allows them to keep their current physicians and treatment programs.

My father suffers from dementia, and it’s crucial that he receive consistent psychiatric treatment to prevent the progression of his symptoms. He’s been seeing the same physicians since his diagnosis, and the stability of those relationships has been important for his condition. This move by Hopkins left my parents with only two options — they could find entirely new doctors for my father, or they could purchase a more expensive Medicare Advantage plan with copays and deductibles they wouldn’t be able to afford.

It’s been heartbreaking to watch my parents and so many other seniors in East Baltimore, where I’ve lived my entire life, struggle with this situation without control or proper guidance over the outcomes. It drives home the ways our current health care system in this country is broken and offers yet another reason why we need to fight for a system that covers everyone at no cost to patients.

We need Medicare for All.

The weaknesses of our current system are why Medicare Advantage plans like the one my parents were cut from exist in the first place. Americans 65 and older or with certain conditions are eligible for coverage under the federal Medicare program, but Medicare patients still have high-cost deductibles for many types of treatments and prescriptions.

That’s where Medicare Advantage plans come in. Although they share a name with the federal program, Medicare Advantage plans are managed by private companies, and their increasing prevalence is a feature of the ongoing privatization of health care. For patients who pay a monthly premium, these plans supplement the coverage offered by traditional Medicare.

The problem is that Medicare Advantage coverage is tied to the finances of the private companies who manage these plans.

If companies decide it’s no longer profitable for them to offer health care coverage to seniors who live in poorer areas with higher health risks, they can terminate plans with little notice to patients. A single-payer Medicare for All program would ensure that no one has to depend on the profit margins of private entities for health care coverage they need.

We need a health care system that is humane, not one that treats our family members and neighbors as sources of profit. And we need health care institutions like Hopkins to respect and honor our seniors and their countless contributions to our communities.

My mother should be spending her retirement enjoying time with her grandchildren, not worrying about whether her husband can afford the care and medications he needs.

Health care is a human right. It’s time to do better.


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Opinion: Health Care for People, Not for Profit