The Elder Law Forum

The Elder Law Forum by Michael Myers Editor's Note: The Elder Law Forum is a public service of the University of South Dakota School of Law, an extension of the SENIOR LEGAL HOTLINE available at no cost to persons 60 and older at 605-677-6343 and mmyers@usd. edu during regular business hours. The Elder Law Forum delivers information and educational material by radio, a weekly newspaper column, and Law School research papers placed on the USD School of Law Web site. Professor Myers teaches Elder Law at the School of Law.

Older, Broke and Unemployed? Try Laughter!

When you are older, flat on your financial back, crippled by chronic disease, and unemployed, there is always the ultimate self-help remedy: laughter, with a sardonic undertone.

That is what I heard in the voice of a 63-year-old caller whose husband left her nine years ago, had lost her $7.80 an hour job due to corporate downsizing, has foot-crippling diabetes, and is taking care of her disabled adult daughter in an apartment complex across from a shopping mall.

"They put me through an eight-week retraining program on computers," she said. "But what they didn't tell me," (laughter) "was that there aren't any jobs out there for an older woman with diabetes."

Presently her income consists of $510 per month from Social Security, "which seems a little low, since my ex-husband had always been a pretty high-earner," she remarked, "but I guess that's the price a woman pays for staying home with the children." (Another wave of laughter).

"That's the right number," I told her. At 62 she became eligible to receive about 34 percent of her ex-husband's full retirement benefit, which is probably in the $1,500-a-month range.

But that isn't why she called. While in the retraining program, when trying to pick a piece of paper off the floor, the office chair tipped over, pitching her onto her left shoulder, permanently damaging a rotator cuff.

"Now, the insurance company insists that I undergo shoulder surgery and threatens that if I don't it will reduce my compensation, a rather strange position (brief laugh), since the surgery and rehabilitation will cost them about $25,000. Maybe the adjuster's brother is an orthopedic surgeon," she (laughingly) surmised.

"Can they penalize me for refusing to undergo a surgery that may or may not be beneficial and contains risk?" she asked. "Probably," I advised. "Lawmakers and insurance executives seem to have an inexplicably deep and abiding faith in the healing properties of surgery and prescription drugs." (sarcasm, without laughter).

I have placed a call to the insurance adjuster. "If the caller subjects her shoulder to surgical repair," I will ask, "what assurance of improvement are you prepared to offer; and if the surgery fails and the shoulder is further impaired, are you prepared to provide additional compensation?" What response do I anticipate? No laughter.

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