Alzheimer's Patients Fight For Quicker Medicare Coverage

NPR reports on the struggle of Alzheimer's patients who don't have health insurance trying to find ways to pay for their care and lobby for greater protections for themselves.

"Alzheimer's is thought of as a disease of the elderly. But there are also people — maybe a couple hundred thousand or more — who have Alzheimer's in their 40s and 50s. People like Teresa Lambert, who is 54. Lambert has come to Washington to tell members of Congress how hard it is for people with early onset Alzheimer's to get health insurance; one-third of them have no health insurance at all." Lambert previously managed a chain of jewelry stores, but then "she started having trouble making sense of the revenue spreadsheets. She was in her late 40s — she can't remember the exact year — when she had to quit her job."

Lambert is among those who are ill and too young to qualify for Medicare but who are asking to be covered by the program right away to help defray expenses and cover themselves: "Medicare was created for the elderly. Then Congress opened it up to younger people who are disabled or sick — that includes people with early onset Alzheimer's, in addition to people with multiple sclerosis, Parkinson's disease, severe heart conditions, psychiatric illnesses and other health problems. But younger people have to wait two years or more to get Medicare coverage. … Congress created the two-year waiting period to make sure only people who are really sick and really can't work get coverage. Right now, only those with Lou Gehrig's disease and end-stage renal disease — both which kill quickly — are allowed onto Medicare right away."

"With Washington focused on changing the health care system, this might seem like a moment to address the waiting list. There are nearly 2 million people on the list, but with Medicare's costs already soaring, most current proposals to fix health care only partially address people on the waiting list. It's expensive to get them off — about $8 billion." In the meantime, 2 million people wait on the Medicare waiting list (Shapiro, 7/6).

This is part of Kaiser Health News' Daily Report - a summary of health policy coverage from more than 300 news organizations. The full summary of the day's news can be found here and you can sign up for e-mail subscriptions to the Daily Report here. In addition, our staff of reporters and correspondents file original stories each day, which you can find on our home page.