Alzheimer’s is thought of as a disease of the elderly. But there are also people – maybe a couple hundred thousand or more – who have Alzheimer’s in their 40s and 50s. Medicare was created for the elderly. Then Congress opened it up to younger people who are disabled or sick – that includes people with early onset Alzheimer’s, in addition to people with multiple sclerosis, Parkinson’s disease, severe heart conditions, psychiatric illnesses and other health problems.
But younger people have to wait two years or more to get Medicare coverage. Congress created the two-year waiting period to make sure only people who are really sick and really can’t work get coverage. Right now, only those with Lou Gehrig’s disease and end-stage renal disease – both which kill quickly – are allowed onto Medicare right away.
With Washington focused on changing the health care system, this might seem like a moment to address the waiting list. There are nearly 2 million people on the list, but with Medicare’s costs already soaring, most current proposals to fix health care only partially address people on the waiting list. It’s expensive to get them off – about $8 billion.