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At Large

The old still matter

/ 12:24 AM December 29, 2015

A hoary symbol depicting the arrival of a new year is that of a “meeting” of two people: an old bearded man, bent and carrying a scythe; and a bouncing baby, beaming with joy and innocence.

Obviously, the old man represents the year about to end, burdened with the events just passed and ready to pass on the coming year to the infant, fresh and simply raring to greet the year about to commence.

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Most everyone’s eyes, I bet, are focused on the baby, who is not only cute and cuddly but also brimming with promise, with good news and glad tidings for the world. At the cusp of a year-change, we all believe everything bad about the year just passed will disappear with the old man, and trust that the newborn will rectify everything that went wrong.

Which may explain our bias for youth, our fondness for the new generation.

But what about experience, maturity, wisdom, lessons learned? Can we not put just as much value on the stored recollections of those who came before us, and the lessons they have to share to help us cope with the present and, more important, the future?

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THIS bias against age, unfortunately, does not remain solely in the realm of symbols or appearances.

In real life, old people are all too often seen—and treated—as past not just their prime but also their usefulness.

We Filipinos pride ourselves in our continuing concern for the older members of our families, if not society. We point to other countries where seniors are routinely shunted to nursing homes or care facilities where they live apart from their families and are looked after by strangers. In our country, we proudly proclaim, we care for our own, with multiple generations sharing the same home.

In many ways this is still true. Many senior citizens still live with their own families, and are treated, in true Asian tradition, as sources of family lore and wisdom, looked on with respect and even reverence. This, even as public opinion surveys have found that older people would prefer, if possible, to live by themselves, lead independent lives even if they hanker for the company of their children and grandchildren.

But in terms of policy and practicality, it seems that the law, policy and practice are biased against older people, seeing them as liabilities and, in the case of the private sector, customers of no import or source of potential profit.

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PASIG Rep. Roman Romulo, who is running for a Senate seat, has called for penalties against health maintenance organizations (HMOs) that discriminate against the Philippines’ estimated six million seniors.

Romulo has filed House Bill No. 6348, called the Anti-Healthcare Age Discrimination Act, which would impose a fine of up to P300,000 on HMOs that refuse to sign up individuals who are 60 years old and above.

The lawmaker noted that some HMOs impose an age ceiling that disqualifies individuals over 60 years old. Others, he said, simply refuse to renew the coverage of their plan holders once they reach this threshold. “This constitutes strong age discrimination which is totally unfair and simply unacceptable,” he said.

This is no small matter for senior citizens. At age 60, or even before then, illnesses begin to manifest and years of neglect or abuse begin to show their toll on the bodies and health of individuals. And just when they face serious health problems and their need is greatest, health providers abscond from their duties and wash their hands off any responsibility.

“We must stress that the State and the private sector have a shared duty to improve the welfare of our senior citizens,” Romulo said.

Altogether, HMOs provide for the health needs of more than four million plan holders, most of whom access healthcare through their employers or health plans for which they personally paid. In many companies, health plans lapse just when or some years after an employee retires. But when they seek to join an HMO on their own, they find that they either have to pay extremely exorbitant fees or are rejected outright. Seniors have no recourse but to depend on their meager pensions and their PhilHealth coverage. Or else, they must rely on the kindness of their children and other family members who may themselves be struggling with economic difficulties. This is why Romulo’s bill deserves as much support as it can muster, now.

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ALSO as urgent is the need for passage by the House of the bill that would increase by P2,000 the monthly pension granted by the Social Security System to its members. The Senate has already passed the measure, and if it passes the House and the bicameral panel, I certainly hope P-Noy will sign it before he leaves Malacañang.

I know the SSS has objected to the bill, filed originally by Bayan Muna Representatives Neri Colmenares and Carlos Isagani Zarate, arguing that it would shorten the life span of the funds accumulated by the SSS for the pension of all retired employees.

But pensioners today cite the saying “Aanhin pa ang damo kung patay na ang kabayo?” to illustrate their plight. Indeed, “what good is hay when the horse has died?” They need the additional pension now, while they’re still alive, not when better times arrive only after they’re long dead.

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TAGS: Age, At Large, elder, generation, New Year, old, opinion, younger
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