Tuesday, October 25, 2005

THE GREAT PRESCRIPTION DRUG RIP-OFF

One of the major problems that are afflicting our nation and that has drawn the attention of every person involved in the adminstration of governmental agencies is the problem of an aging and increasingly ill populace who cannot afford to take advantage of our wonderful modern health care system. They, rightly, point with pride to the great advances in medicine and the diseases that can be prevented with innoculations or cured by treatment and should make us the healthiest nation in the history of the world. However, quite the reverse is true as the costs of health care rise and its affordability for the poor and middle-class falls.

As the current administration and the like-minded of the Congressional majority attempt to convince us that they have our best interests at heart, their actions are nothing short of a travesty. In the interest of those poor and elderly who cannot afford to purchase sufficient prescription medication to maintain life and health, they have given us the new Medicare pharmacy plan. According to this plan, those who are already eligible for Medicaid will receive the same benefits they have now, with the exception that now they will have to find the money for larger co-payments in their meager food budget. The elderly and disabled poor will now have a "drug plan" whereby they will be forced to purchase medications insurance under a plan that is so complicated that even those who will have to work under it can't understand the rules sufficiently to educate the public about it. However, if we do not buy it by the deadline, we will be punished by higher premiums, the amount of which we do not yet know at this time. We are told that "most" will have to begin by paying about $35 per month but that the insurance companies may increase this amount at will.

For many who will be paying these mandatory premiums, there will be no foreseeable savings whatever. First, you will pay at least $444 per year for the premium, and then the first $250 for medicine will come right out of your pocket. Then the insurance will pay 75% of the amount up to a total of $2500, another $625.00 that you will have to pay before you reach the "donut hole". It has been estimated that the average retiree receives Social Security income of perhaps $1000 per month less Medicare premiums. This will add at least $75 per month in fixed expenses that reduce the buying power of that individual even more. When you consider that many prescription medications may cost as much as $10 per dose, it is not hard to pass that mark and enter the donut hole where you may pay as much as $2500 more out-of-pocket before receiving any more assistance. No wonder the average elderly person suffers from attacks of anxiety just trying to figure it out!

When you couple these figures with the information that the projected "cost of living raise" for those on Social Security will be 3% next year, you are seeing the situation in perspective, particularly in light of the fact that there will be an increase in the Medicare Part A and Part B premiums. To sum up, the increase in Social Security will net about $300 per year, from which we subtract perhaps $300 for increased Medicare premiums and the $1666 for prescription "assistance" and we are supposed to be reassured about the health and monetary well-being of the elderly in 2006. (In addition, it will cost the government several trillion dollars over ten years to administer the system.)

Once you have finished the math to realize that you will gain little or no advantage from this "insurance" plan, you will face the task of deciding with which insurance company to purchase the plan. You may go on-line or call each company individually, but you need to know precisely what medications you will need because not all companies pay for all medicines. Most will pay for generics but, if for medical reasons you require a brand-name medicine, you may find that it isn't covered and you must pay for it yourself. This will require a good deal of prescience. If we don't know which diseases we may in future contract or which medication our doctor may prescribe, we may find ourselves in the same predicament. So we must become not only economic wizards, we must predict our own future illnesses and the medicines required to cure or control it. No wonder a query of an elder person regarding this "assistance" is usually met by a blank stare and an expression of puzzlement.

It is nothing more nor less than the same old "bait and switch" that the Bush administration tried to sell the American public for the Social Security program, but this time the elderly are stuck with the "snake oil" with no recourse. Add in the fact that energy prices are expected to double this year and Congress is planning to cut domestic programs such as Low Income Home Energy Assistance Programs in order to "save" enough money to repair the Katrina damage without forsaking another tax cut for the rich and brace yourself for the news of elderly people dying of malnutition and hypothermia in the year to come. At least they may be able to afford to hoard enough medications to allow them to overdose and end their own suffering, further relieving the national budget of that burden.

Friday, October 14, 2005

The Burning Question

Has anyone else noticed how badly those who write our laws despise common-sense solutions and plain speaking in the English language? Any solution to a common problem that makes common sense to the common citizen is dismissed as being "simplistic", argued about, mulled over, cussed and discussed until it makes no sense to anybody. Then it is scheduled for a vote. The hottest problem in American life today is, thanks to the constant insistence of the "religious right", that of abortion. There is no longer any middle ground and no attempt to find a solution other than outright revocation of Roe v. Wade or "abortion on demand". It seems that this artificial division has been fostered by the two major parties in order to keep their "bases" in line when they enter the voting booth. However, even the pro-choice group, NARAL, states that they want to keep abortion "safe, legal, and rare." I would go one step further and state that the medical procedure should be safe, legal, and unnecessary.
I suggest that a little common sense and a broadening of understanding, together with a Christian attitude of caring for the problem rather than condemning the victim would be highly appropriate. I, too, am revulsed by the prospect of a woman who is carrying a child in the second or third month of development finding it necessary to destroy that life. But I am even more distressed when that "woman" is little more than a child, with no education, no vocational training, and totally un-equipped to parent that child, whether or not she marries the ignorant and over-sexed little boy who is responsible for her condition. The purists preach abstinence only, but purists are not known to be practical. The pragmatist understands that Mother Nature is intent on propagating the species and does not care about the circumstances of the prospective parents. If we hope to improve the standards of living in the nation, put an end to childhood hunger, and develop a more intelligent, better educated citizenry, our best plan would be to make abortion not only undesireable but unnecessary.
There is much talk about adoption as the solution to unwanted pregnancies, but that is also only by the purists. The fact is that blonde, blue-eyed babies are in demand but the supply is inadequate. Unfortunately, most unwanted pregnancies occur among the poor, that is, largely among the non-white or mixed-blood populace and those who want to adopt do not find these children to be acceptable and turn to other nations to find adoptees. Many children have been brought from places like Rumania in order to fill the demand while native-born American children are refused because of race or color. Why were there blonde, blue-eyed orphans in Rumania, sick and unloved, lying in cribs, isolated, neglected, and unwanted by anybody? Because Rumania had been governed by a despot who outlawed all forms of birth control in an effort to increase the population! As the result, that nation found itself awash in unwanted, abandoned babies and had to establish those miserable orphanages to house them. They also experienced an huge increase in crime as these children grew to maturity with no concept of love and no training in the difference between right and wrong. We could learn from that experience.
Would it not be better to institute a system of protection and assistance for women who find themselves in this untenable position? I can hear the right-wing screams about "welfare queens" but the positives would out-weigh the negatives if it were done properly. A woman, (and that definition does include any girl old enough to bear children) who, despite adequate training in birth control, (including the desirability of abstinence), should find herself in this predicament, there should be a procedure to protect that incipient human being should the pregnancy be allowed to run its course. If the young lady in question does not yet have a high school diploma, she should be subsidized by medical care and educational assistance to stay in school until she achieves that goal as well as whatever training is appropriate to prepare to support and care for that child. It might also be appropriate to provide a plan for the unwitting father to complete his education and train him to work at a job sufficient to permit him to contribute to the support, the life, and the education of this infant, whether or not he ever marries the mother.
This will require a great deal of public education to rid ourselves of all the old taboos against "sin" and the ostracism that exists against those who have children out of wedlock. The stigma of illegitimacy should be removed from birth certificates so that every American citizen shall be "born free". The parents should be somehow immunized from the perception of illegitimacy by being considered as victims of "an act of God", as worthy of freedom and opportunity as any other citizen of this nation. The programs of "welfare" should be reconsidered so that a young couple who are prospective parents could marry and still be assisted as needed in the upbringing of their family. "Man in the house" regulations should be eliminated so that a man who is underemployed could remain in his home and parent his own children rather than having to leave in order for them to be allowed sufficient assistance to be able to eat. Those who profess to be "pro-family" and promoting "family values" should approve of these measures.
A plan along these lines would go far in re-building the structure of family life which is so desireable. The costs would be offset by the decreasing costs of crime control and drug treatment as we grow an ever better-educated society to influence children for the better and to inspire them with an ambition to create a better future for themselves. It would seem to be a better investment to create a generation of law-abiding and self-supporting youth rather than to keep spending our money on law enforcement, which is never enough, and prisons with eternally insufficient bed space and costly staffing and maintenance. The present system succeeds only in producing more un-disciplined adults who are ill-equipped to be parents, more unintended pregnancies, and more unwanted children who will grow up to repeat their history
The one question that we have to ask ourselves as individuals and as a nation is whether we want to continue to cast blame and ostracism on an ever-growing percentage of our young people or whether we approach the problem in a thoughtful and helpful manner and insure the future of our citizens and our country. Those of us who express our Christianity in loving concern for our fellow human beings prefer the latter.

Tuesday, October 04, 2005

An Andy Rooney Comment

I'm not really clear how much a billion dollars is but the United States — our United States — is spending $5.6 billion a month fighting this war in Iraq that we never should have gotten into. We still have 139,000 soldiers in Iraq today. Almost 2,000 Americans have died there. For what? Now we have the hurricanes to pay for. One way our government pays for a lot of things is by borrowing from countries like China. Another way the government is planning to pay for the war and the hurricane damage is by cutting spending for things like Medicare prescriptions, highway construction, farm payments, AMTRAK, National Public Radio and loans to graduate students. Do these sound like the things you'd like to cut back on to pay for Iraq? I'll tell you where we ought to start saving: on our bloated military establishment. We're paying for weapons we'll never use. No other Country spends the kind of money we spend on our military. Last year Japan spent $42 billion. Italy spent $28 billion, Russia spent only $19 billion. The United States spent $455 billion. We have 8,000 tanks for example. One Abrams tank costs 150 times as much as a Ford station wagon. We have more than 10,000 nuclear weapons — enough to destroy all of mankind. We're spending $200 million a year on bullets alone. That's a lot of target practice. We have 1,155,000 enlisted men and women and 225,000 officers. One officer to tell every five enlisted soldier what to do. We have 40,000 colonels alone and 870 generals. We had a great commander in WWII, Dwight Eisenhower. He became President and on leaving the White House in 1961, he said this: “We must guard against the acquisition of unwarranted influence, whether sought or unsought, by the military-industrial complex. The potential for the disastrous rise of misplaced power exists and will persist. …" Well, Ike was right. That's just what’s happened. By Andy Rooney © MMV, CBS Broadcasting Inc. All Rights Reserved.