WASHINGTON- Helen Frederick isn’t a lobbyist and doesn’t have any connections. The 80-year-old devoutly religious grandmother has no ax to grind, and she doesn’t pretend to have the solution to the problem of Medicare prescription drug coverage.
But the Crownsville woman found herself testifying on the issue Tuesday to Congress, sandwiched between experts from the Congressional Budget Office, the Health Care Financing Administration and the National Committee to Preserve Social Security and Medicare.
“I was just happy that I was asked,” she said. “I’m glad I could be a part of this. It’s important that people find out about it.”
Frederick said she suffers from diabetes, glaucoma, arthritis and heart trouble, among other illnesses, and lacks prescription drug coverage. She said she pays half her $800-a-month income on drugs and, because she owns her own house, where she has lived since 1946, she cannot qualify for a number of low- income assistance programs.
“Sometimes I have to skimp on groceries to afford my prescriptions,” she told the Health Subcommittee of the House Ways and Means Committee.
During her five-minute presentation to the subcommittee, Frederick said she hoped Congress would not only provide drug coverage to help today’s senior citizens but also those in the future.
“I hope that whatever Congress does, it will look at the whole Medicare program and try to bring it up to date,” she testified. “I worry about how people will be covered in the future and what options my grandson will have when he gets older.”
Frederick’s words were received warmly by the three representatives in attendance, and a number of people came up to her to thank her for her testimony when she was done.
Subcommittee Chairwoman Nancy Johnson, R-Conn., called Frederick’s testimony “eloquent,” noting the Crownsville grandmother’s “concern about what the benefits for her grandson will be.”
Janet Trautwein, of the National Association of Health Underwriters, said the organization was trying to find a Medicare recipient to testify and Frederick was recommended by her friend, insurance agent Diane Mahoney.
“We were just lucky to find her,” Trautwein said. “She did such a great job.”
Frederick said that Mahoney recommended her because she spends much of her free time as a lay minister, preaching at John Wesley United Methodist, Waterbury, as well as preaching to youth groups and inmates at the local prison.
Her religious background surfaced in her presentation, which ended, “May God bless all of you who have a voice in helping.” Frederick ended each conversation with, “Have a blessed day.”
Despite the difficulties with her bills, Frederick made it clear after her testimony that she does not feel sorry for herself.
“God has saved my life a number of times,” Frederick said. “I also get by with the help of my neighbors, who help me with food. Other people have it a lot worse.”
Frederick said she was confident Congress, with God’s help, would come up with a solution to the prescription drug issue.
“I pray for Congress. I pray for the White House. I pray for everybody,” Frederick said. “When you pray for everybody, everybody is covered.”