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Don’t ‘preach’ to our seniors, says Fleming

Age Concern executive director Claudette Fleming

Age Concern executive director Claudette Fleming called for the Bermuda Government to show more empathy to seniors as she highlighted their growing financial concerns.

Ms Fleming said many are already unable to pay for their health insurance and fear that financial assistance could become even further stretched — and feel that instead of being listened to, they are being “preached to”.

Patricia Gordon-Pamplin, Minister for Community, had warned in June that financial assistance is unsustainable and that relief is “not an entitlement but a privilege”.

In an interview with The Royal Gazette yesterday, Ms Fleming argued that the issue of cost is just as important for seniors as it is for the government.

“We know that they believe it is a problem for them, but it is a problem for the consumer,” she told The Royal Gazette.

“Can we find some middle ground in a two-way dialogue about cost? Not a preaching exercise to tell me why I need to be charged what I’m being charged, but a legitimate two-way dialogue on the costs. That is still pressing, the cost. Not cost to the government, because we hear the numbers: it’s cost to the seniors.

“And people cannot afford it. One senior said she’s working now but she will probably discontinue her insurance because she cannot afford it. She has at least two other friends in the same position.

“So these are the things that we’re hearing more. Some of the people are calling for reprieve and I regret that we haven’t got an answer for these people, in terms of sustainability.

“You hear the minister with responsibility for financial assistance saying, ‘hey this is unsustainable, we cannot accommodate so many people on financial assistance’.

“And there will come a time that financial assistance will be cut even further. I know they’ve made some changes and we were reassured that seniors would not be impacted, but as the number of seniors grow they will consume more of these dollars.

“All the way around it’s not sustainable for the government; it’s not sustainable for seniors. We will start to see more people having difficulties.”

On the issue of empathy, Ms Fleming said: “I don’t even know if I’m going to be around five years from now. I would like to see more of that empathy coming from our policymakers, whether they be political or otherwise.

“Things like, ‘I have a grandmother’, or ‘I have to think about these things myself’. I want them to spend some time from that perspective because I don’t know that seniors feel like they’re being heard. I think they feel as though they’re being preached to.

“They’re being told that they’re quite ill for the most part, or they’re living longer and this is driving up costs, but they are not getting the reassurance that their financial wellbeing will not be in jeopardy as a result of their health condition.

“With the healthy ageing agenda, we also want to see an acknowledgment that we’re going to get old and the body is going to break down. We know that’s going to happen but we need to know that when that happens there is a safety net in place.”

Ms Fleming also spoke about the issue of health insurance coverage and said that planned changes for FutureCare will allow for “some excellent care”. She thanked Jeanne Atherden, Minister of Seniors, who spoke of a number of issues including the importance of healthy ageing at home at Tuesday’s Age Concern annual general meeting.

Meanwhile, Derrick Burgess, the Progressive Labour Party’s spokesman for seniors, called for special rates for the elderly as medication costs rise and insurance subsidies are reduced.

He said: “They make tax exemptions for business to survive, but they take away from seniors in order for them not to survive. I think we need to sit down and map out a plan.

“There are some social responsibilities to running a country. And there are some social responsibilities that we must take into consideration first, that almost should be mandatory, in that we take our seniors and we take our children and see that there are monies for them.”