In this post, I describe two incidences where I had to deal with some level of ageism. None of the situations were overly dramatic or big learning experiences, but both of them are true.
On the road
About a year ago, I stopped at an intersection with a 4 way stop sign. I made a right turn and the next thing I know a young man was honking at me and following me closely. I pulled over, lowered my window to see what he wanted. He yelled that I had turned when it was his turn and cut him off, and he said a bunch of other things (I don’t remember his exact words but he was very angry) and as part of his diatribe, he indicated that my thoughtless driving was due to my being an old man. First off, let me be very clear: I was in the wrong here. I did what he said I did. And I was and am an old man-I was 72 at the time of this incident. However, I did it because I wasn’t focused on driving, I was thinking about something else (in this case, what I was going to feed my granddaughters for dinner that night). Here’s the thing though: for most of the 56 years that I’ve been driving, I space out from time to time. There are so many more interesting things to think about than what’s in front of me on the street. I was perfectly capable of the same inattention when I was 22, 32, 42, 52 or 62. After he finished his tirade, I began yelling an apology, but he was already driving away. I hope, at least, that he heard the apology. I doubt if he heard the second part, which was that I was more than capable of doing what I did throughout my driving life, and the fact that I’m old had nothing to do with it.
Here’s my point: we’ve been conditioned to believe that older adults lose their driving skills as they age. To a certain extent that’s true, we don’t process new situations as quickly as we did when we were younger, but I believe that to assume that I did what I did because I’m old reflects certain beliefs that our society perpetuates about older adults that aren’t necessarily true.
Dealing with insurance
Last year, during a visit to the dentist for my every six-month check-up and prophy, the hygienist suggested that I get a fluoride treatment to help prevent cavities. She confirmed that it was covered by my dental insurance, so I went ahead with the treatment.
About a month later I received a letter from my Medicare Advantage plan stating that due to my age, the fluoride treatment would not be covered. At first, I could not believe it. I reread the letter three times to make sure it said what I thought it said. It did. I called the health plan and they confirmed that they weren’t covering the procedure, and explained, as did the letter, my right to write an appeal letter. At first, I thought about letting it go, but the more I thought about it, the angrier I became, so I wrote the letter.
I based my appeal on two points. First, I explained that since the basis of their denial was that I was too old for them to cover the treatment, they were discriminating against me because of my age. My dental health is as important as anyone else’s and there was no valid reason to deny me a benefit that was extended to others who were covered by this plan. I further noted that my dental plan is a rider to a Medicare advantage plan, so it should be assumed that whoever uses the benefit is in fact an older adult. So how could they justify denying coverage to an older adult?
My second point was less emotional but as important: it costs the insurer a whole lot less money to cover a preventative fluoride treatment than their share of a filling or crown if I were to get a cavity. So, not only was their decision discriminatory, but it was also short-sighted.
A month after I filed my appeal letter, I received notice that my appeal had been accepted and they were going to cover the treatment. However, the plan didn’t agree that they had engaged in age discrimination. I took yes for an answer and moved on, but I know what they did.
– Edward from McMinnville, Oregon, a FAR customer who is finding purpose in this new stage of his life.
Edward writes for FAR and is also a customer. He is 73-year-old, born and raised in and around New York City. After college and a little graduate school, he took Horace Greeley’s advice and went west. Edward lived in several cities throughout California and currently resides in Oregon. He practiced law for a few years as part of a law collective doing what they called “people’s law,” but spent most of his career working as an internal organizer for the unions.
When Edward’s career ended with the unions, he was determined to become an advocate for older adults. He enrolled at Portland Community College studying Gerontology. He learned a lot about aging and how it applied to his own life experiences and my own aging process. Much of Edward’s writing is related to what he learned in his Gerontology studies.
* The opinions expressed in this article are those of the authors. They do not necessarily reflect the opinions or views of the Finance of America Reverse (LLC).
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