Seniors Share Thoughts on Healthcare and Retirement

Oct 22, 2013

This week, SDPB Radio and AARP of South Dakota are teaming up to look at issues facing elderly South Dakotans. Today, seniors in two communities share what they think about healthcare, retirement, and the future.

The lunch crowd is fairly small at the Senior Citizen’s Center in Waubay. Jenny Bisgard serves the meals here, and she says there’s a reason for the fairly low attendance these days.

“More people don’t like to eat, because it’s not a thing to go to the old people’s home, as they say,” Bisgard says.

The seven people who are sitting around the table begin the interview by asking me questions, mostly about the Affordable Care Act, and what it means for them. Seventy-two year old Lloyd Skinner says he’s not concerned about his healthcare. He’s got Medicare, as well as supplement plans. He can also go to the VA hospital. He says for the most part, he likes being retired, but he does have one concern.

“You’re only on a fixed income,” Skinner says. “And everything else goes up but our social security doesn’t go up. So like this town here, when I first moved here water was 50 dollars a month. Now it’s 63. In about a year. But they didn’t raise my social security. And you can only stretch it so far.”

Skinner says he’s doing okay and isn’t worried. He’s more concerned about younger generations, and how they’re going to make ends meet.

“Everything is getting too expensive anymore,” Skinner says. “I’m just glad I’m on the downhill slide. When I was younger I never worried about getting old, but now I got old. I probably would have changed a few things when I was younger.”

Skinner says living in a small town in South Dakota makes his budget go further. Next to him at the table, 72 year old Dwayne Eidet agrees.

“I don’t think I’d want to live any other place but South Dakota. But I’ve lived here all my life, too,” Eidet says.

Like Skinner, Eidet has Medicare and a supplement plan that take care of his medical needs. Mostly, he says, he doesn’t think too much about retirement or healthcare. He says he’s too busy.

“I have no paying job,” Eidet says. “But I still put in 20 to 24 hours a week doing bingo at the Legion, bookwork, here, and the church, and whatever, fundraisings.”

Eidet says the Senior Nutrition Program helps people get by. Jenny Bisgard has worked with the program for over 30 years. She says she and the others who eat lunch here don’t spend a lot of time focusing on or talking about retirement or healthcare issues.

“There’s nothing we can do about it anyway. So you might as well go about your life the best you can,” Bisgard says.

Meanwhile, at the Golden Age Club in Webster, Maurice and Pat Bierschbach are enjoying their fish dinner. They have been married 61 years.

Pat Bierschbach says she has mixed feelings about the future.

“I think it’s bright in one way, and in another way I worry about getting older and getting disabled and everything. But for now, why, it’s going good,” Bierschbach says.

Bierschbach says she and her husband are doing okay. Maurice Bierschbach says all of their needs are met.

“We’re happy,” Maurice says. “And just think, if I’m 88 and a half now, and retired at 65, all the years I’ve got Social Security. And Medicare is so good to me. I have operations and stuff, but they pay the bill pretty much. I’m very happy with both Social Security and Medicare.”

But Pat Bierschbach says she and her husband couldn’t get by on social security alone. That’s why she says people need to plan for the future well ahead of retirement.

“We’ve saved, yeah. We’ve lived frugally. We’re tight,” Bierschbach says.

Bierschbach says that lifestyle is paying off now, because she and her husband don’t have to worry about finances. Other seniors at the table agree. Alice Bartell says she couldn’t make it on social security alone, and says it’s important to start saving early.

“Just don’t live beyond your means,” Bartell says. “I guess we all struggled when we were first married, and we did without and did what we could, and I think that helped.”

Bartell says for her, the future looks good. She’s a little concerned about living alone, but she says she’s taking that one day at a time. Her advice for living well in the later years is similar to the other seniors I spoke with: stay busy, volunteer, and spend time with friends.