The politics of medicine, 2003

Much like other years the technology of medicine grew at a frenetic pace. Despite all the wonderful discoveries sadly it was the politics of medicine we found on the front pages of our newspapers in 2003. There were changes in the medicare laws, bills to cover the cost of prescription drugs for our seniors and a privacy act known as HIPA, short for The Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act. If you take the time to read these laws, be prepared to burn some midnight oil, the prescription drug law alone is something like 681 pages. Even if you do read them you’re left wondering what it all means for you and your family.

Medicare got a whopping 400 billion dollar shot in the arm to help with prescription drug coverage for seniors in need. I’d like to think it’s a good fix, only time will tell.

It seems congress has allowed the PMA (pharmaceutical manufacturers’ association) to wield their weight in the new prescription drug bill with tougher restrictions for Americans wishing to purchase their drugs in Canada. I didn’t know whether to laugh or bite my lip the other night as Larry King asked Bill Mahr what he thought about Americans purchasing drugs from Canada. He smiled and said of course when visiting our neighbors to the north he always took a supply of water, didn’t eat raw food and feared he would come home dysentery. Oh, and the drugs are bad too, sure. Like him or not he does make us think.

The bill also contains major gaps in coverage. Example: after an individual on an income of $12,390 meets his/her initial deductible and buys a drug card ($30 monthly) their savings would be 10-15 percent up to six hundred dollars. Coverage then stops unless drug costs become catastrophic it then kicks in to cover approximately 57 percent of costs. Why would anyone buy a prescription drug card that costs $30 a month, $360 a year to save 10-15 percent when seniors are already saving 25-50 percent on drugs from Canada with no out of pocket expense?

AARP – one of the bills biggest supporters – lost 15,000 members within a week of the bills’ passage. They say it was a tough decision. I can’t help but wonder as I look at their bulletin how much were they influenced by the PMA?

As for the new HIPA law, I have mixed feelings. As a nurse my family has relied on me to talk with the medical professionals either personally or by phone to find out what was really going on. Unless I’m on the list, I can no longer talk nurse to nurse about the condition of my loved one. Breach of confidentiality has always been a serious offense and any good caring health professional would rather spit than reveal those confidentialities. The up side, it does prevent outside individuals or agencies from obtaining sensitive information from other sources than health professionals without the individuals’ written consent.

What if we all made a resolution to make the upcoming year our healthiest ever, a wellness plan to leave part if not all of our prescription drugs behind. What if you took the $360 dollar prescription drug plan medicare offers you and banked it on your health; a yoga class, tai chi, the YMCA, better food, some good supplements, or acupuncture. No need for HIPA then either. Given the fact our health is never perfect and always changing it is a gift and one we can usually improve upon. Till next time, Rebecca