Medicare had meant a great deal to her mother, who died at age 86: “I know Medicare helped my mom pay her medical expenses when she was alive. She was very ill. Without Medicare, we probably would have lost her years before.” Flecke said she planned to vote for Obama, although her boyfriend—she is divorced and has two adult children—“prays every day I’ll vote for the better of two evils, and that is Romney. People have told me I’m choosing the wrong candidate. The Christians here believe Obama is the anti-Christ. But I believe he has had his hands tied, and his overall goal is to help all Americans, not just the rich or the poor.”
Ruth Fuller and Barb Johnson
My next stop was the St. Louis Botanical Garden, where I found two former school teachers resting after a walk through the gardens. Both were 65 and had just gone on Medicare. Fuller had been a speech pathologist in the St. Louis public schools for 36 years and was glad she retired when she did. “It got so I was bombarded with paperwork, and paper work takes away from student interaction,” she told me. Her friend Johnson had taught in elementary schools. Both said they had good pensions from their school systems. They said so far their incomes were enough to let them travel and do what they wanted.
Johnson said she did not know much about Paul Ryan or Mitt Romney, “but I’m not sure any one of the candidates is attuned to my needs.” Then she quickly volunteered, “I think we need a single payer system to take the profits out of the system.” Why, I asked? Johnson said her experience with private insurance had not been good. Every two years the school systems she worked for changed insurance companies, she explained, and she had to change doctors. “It was ridiculous. I didn’t like it when I had to change doctors. I bounced around. I don’t think privatization works for anything.”
Johnson considers herself an independent and for many years has voted Republican. But she doesn’t like the Ryan plan. She said she was fiscally conservative and would vote for Obama. “My mother would never have had insurance without Medicare.”
Fuller, who says she’s an independent, often votes Republican. She twice voted for Richard Nixon. “I don’t know that I have ever voted for a Democratic president,” she said. She also calls herself a news junkie. And she does not like Ryan’s privatization plan. I asked if the Medicare issue would swing her vote for the Democrats this time. “Probably. With that in mind, I would vote for Obama,” she told me. And: “If you start messing with Social Security, these gray-haired people will march on Washington like some march for abortion. Don’t mess with people’s pocketbooks.”
McClanahan was getting out her car at the botanical garden on her way to a part-time job in the gift shop. As my friend and I were getting into our car, we talked about Medicare; McClanahan overheard and wanted to join the conversation. She recently turned 65 and began collecting Social Security benefits, receiving $1,027 after her Medicare premium is deducted. She is now single and said that after she signed up for Social Security benefits, she had to get a part-time job to make ends meet; she did not have enough of a work history for a larger Social Security benefit. She had been a full-time mom and worked at a lot of part-time jobs, including managing her daughter’s beauty salon for a time.