Pa. Rep. Lee, HHS Secretary Becerra talk senior health care at Pittsburgh roundtable (Penn Capital-Star)

PITTSBURGH — Linda Orndoff’s elderly mother, has a chronic kidney disorder, is about to undergo cataract surgery, and is almost totally deaf. And as her full-time caregiver, Orndoff said she’s her mother’s main connection to the rest of the world. 

“She never would have made it in a nursing home,” Orndoff said, “she’s too used to being in her home, having her kitty cat, and her children visit.” 

But the work has worn on Orndoff, to the point that she had to quit her job and has little social life of her own. “I’ve had to make some difficult decisions,” she said. “Being a caregiver in today’s society is very exhausting.”

Orndoff made the comments at a roundtable discussion hosted by U.S. Rep. Summer Lee at the Thelma Lovette YMCA in the city’s Hill District neighborhood on Tuesday. 

Lee, D-12th District, was joined by U.S. Health and Human Services Secretary Xavier Becerra and other state and local officials, for a discussion on affordable health care for senior citizens. 

“You’re one of the quiet heroes in America,” Becerra told Orndoff. “I so admire you for taking this on for your family.” 

Becerra described his own family’s caregiving experience with his late father, who died at home, surrounded by family. 

“And one of the things we’re trying to do at the Department of Health and Human Services is to move more toward home health care,” he said. “Because there is no place that someone who is ill, ailing, or dying would rather be than home.” 

Becerra said his father refused to go to a hospital near the end of his life, and had treatment at home instead.

“And you know what, my dad not going to the hospital saved America a lot of money. And you being here for your mom and your grandson? You’re saving America a lot of money, and so we owe you,” Becerra continued.

During the discussion, which was hosted by nonprofit community organization Macedonia Family and Community Enrichment Center (FACE), Lee also stressed the importance of lower medication costs made possible by the Inflation Reduction Act, including a $35 Medicare cap on insulin, free preventive vaccines under Medicare Part D, and, allowing Medicare to negotiate drug prices. 

“People are saving maybe $40 on a vaccine here, or $80 on insulin,” she said. “But we also need to think about the fact that it’s saving lives. There are people who, aside from not spending the money, wouldn’t have gotten care in the first place, because they didn’t have the money on the front end. And this is going to free people, instead of saying ‘will I pay my rent this month or will I get my insulin?’ It’s not just the cost saving, it’s also the life saving.”

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