I am caregiver to my mother, who is 85 years old. She has Parkinson’s disease, fibromyalgia, crippling arthritis, macular degeneration, and celiac disease, so as you can imagine this is a complicated undertaking, more than I can handle on my own. We found an assisted living center near my home, a nonprofit facility operated by a church organization that has priced their services as affordably as possible while still providing support for residents. Even so, their monthly cost is considerably more than my mom makes each month, even with a stipend from the VA (thanks to my stepdad’s military service), and we are dipping into her limited savings to pay the bills each month.
This facility takes Medicaid, and a great many of their residents require it. They get about $1,500 less each month for these residents, but still have to provide the same services. The residents, in turn, have to turn over every dime they make each month, and they get under $200 a month to pay for things like personal care and incontinence supplies (which are surprisingly expensive) and other essentials. It isn’t enough, and it is distressing to see how they struggle. Some of them are going without toothpaste, shampoo, and other basics.
Like my mom, many of these elderly people worked hard all their lives, saved as best they could, and thought their pensions and social security would be enough to see them through their old age, only to find that the cost of living outpaced their income and savings and the cost of assisted living and medical care is more than most working people make each month, let alone people on reduced, fixed incomes.
One of the few things that works in their favor is current tax policy that lets them take medical deductions on their taxes. Most of these folks, even with Medicare and supplemental plans, still have significant expenses, copays for frequent doctor visits, pharmaceutical costs, and the cost of assisted living itself, part of which is deductible (medically required assistance with daily living activities such as dressing, bathing, getting to meals, etc.). These costs actually reduce my mom’s tax liability to zero and allow her to use most of her money to pay for her needs.
The Republican tax plan in the House takes that away (the Senate version doesn’t change the deduction). It will cost my mom nearly $3,000 a year. Not only that, the plan pays for the huge tax breaks for people who are already rich by slashing Medicaid. Those cuts will put some of the people my mom lives with out on the street, and it will force the assisted living to raise prices on those who can pay — which will rip through my mom’s life savings at an even greater pace. And there is a version of this plan that slashes the charitable deduction — the facility my mom lives in relies heavily on donations to its charitable foundation to help keep the lights on, and the tax plan eats into that as well in order to give tax breaks to billionaires.
I, too, expect to pay more in taxes if the tax plan is passed. It looks like both Republican bills get rid of most of the deductions I rely on to reduce my tax burden. Based on the assessment of the nonpartisan congressional office that evaluates the impact of bills, all of the various versions of their plan will hurt those of us who have worked all our lives just to make a basic living, so that Republicans can give even more money to people who don’t need it. And the weak argument that this will result in more jobs and higher pay has been undercut by history — this has been tried before, many times, and it has not ever worked out well for the working class. Recently at a Wall Street Journal gathering for corporate leaders, they were asked for a show of hands, who among them would use their tax savings to build their businesses and create jobs. Very few hands were raised. The truth is this will not create jobs or benefit anyone but the already very wealthy.
So this is what I ask of Colorado’s Senator Cory Gardner: I would like him to publicly explain if he would vote for a House bill that will do so much harm, especially to our elders, who worked their whole lives to help build this country. I would like him to disclose, publicly, how much money he has taken from the people who will actually benefit from this tax plan. I want to know why Republicans propose hurting my mom and me and so many others who are having trouble as it is just getting by.
He owes us, his constituents, an explanation.
Lisa Hakonson lives in Lakewood.
Updated December 1, 2017 at 3:00 p.m. The original version of this column was inaccurate. The Senate version of the tax plan does not eliminate deductions for health care expenses. That provision only appears in the House version of the bill, which Sen. Cory Gardner is not expected to vote on this week. Also, the column had the wrong cost to Medicaid and Medicare. The potential sequester is estimated to be $25 billion in 2018 for those two programs.