I come from a flyspeck on the map called Searchlight in remote southern Nevada. When I grew up in Searchlight, no one went to the doctor unless on his deathbed. And even then, he wondered, who's going to print the money for him to pay the bill?
A week before I was born, my father had a near-fatal accident. An incident at a local mine left him with roughly 300 rock splinters in his body. My family couldn't afford a doctor, and my mother spent years digging rocks out of my father's back.
Just as my mother was there to help my father over the years, so too must the government remain committed to providing health care to the nation's seniors it vowed to support. And that means helping them bear the cost burden of health care.
There is some good news to report. Last year's health insurance reform is already putting money back into the pockets of seniors by lowering the cost of prescription drugs and providing free services that seniors desperately need.
Seniors have saved $460 million on prescription drugs since the law's passage, according to the U.S. Health and Human Services Department. Thousands of Nevada seniors, for example, have saved on average $526 per person.
Medicare beneficiaries who fall into the prescription drug "doughnut hole" have experienced significant savings, too. Nearly 1 million people in this category have received a 50 percent discount on prescription drugs, according to HHS
And on top of these savings, more than 17 million seniors have received potentially lifesaving preventive care, such as cancer screenings, without copays or deductibles. Another 1 million have taken advantage of free wellness visits. Half of the Medicare beneficiaries across the nation have received free preventive care.
Yet there are still a lot of people today who are just like my mother and father — people who cope with unnecessary pain because they lack money.
Many more lack proper information about the benefits available to them. We can help them. We all have a stake in curbing health care costs, and it starts with proper information and sharing it with your family, your friends and your neighbors. HealthCare.gov is a great resource for anyone looking to learn more. And the Department of Health and Human Services website continues to provide great guides, too.
Helping people treat conditions that may become life-threatening is much less costly than helping people whose health has already reached a critical state. And it can help them lead more healthy and productive lives.
Also of interest: Tools that help with health care and costs. >>
Sen. Harry Reid, D-Nev., is the U.S. Senate majority leader.