A Poetic Haitus

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I had a poem to post today. Unfortunately, I left the notebook at home or in the car or somewhere, so it will have to wait--by which time I may have two or three. (I'm sure this has my loyal fan-base chortling with glee.)

But I did want to say something that has been much on my mind of late. It is an issue for which I do not have the answers, but to which I have been more and more exposed of recent date.

I have two friends who are retired. One of them received a legacy from his parents and was able to retire earlier than most of us. The other retired pretty much in the normal course of events. Both are having some serious problems with the health system. One friend has felt compelled to sell his home in order to bankroll any medical expenses he may have. He's had a couple of incidents in recent days--really very minor things, that have exposed him to the tremendous costs of lacking insurance.

The other finds herself in straightened means. She has a very limited income--social security and what retirement was not swept away by corporate greed, 9/11, and other market-effecting events. She confided that she is no longer buying diet sodas so that she can try to afford the medicine she needs to be alive and stable.

I know, diet sodas don't seem like a major issue. And I suppose they're not--but the point is not the diet sodas--it is the system of medicine in this country that demands from people sacrifices great and small. What is most bothersome to me is that both of these people have lived active, productive, lives--and yet they have less access to care than someone who has relied for years upon our social support systems.

I don't have an answer. I don't know the answer. But I do know that the problem faces all of us of limited means as we approach retirement age. Even people who would be classed as well-off might find themselves in dire straights as they approach the years in which medical intervention might become a more present reality.

We don't tend to think about it much, but this is another group of people who need our prayers, our support, and our active search for solutions. Instead, because they appear to be comfortably middle-class, they are forgotten and are reduced to selling houses and assets to make ends meet.

No plan I have heard thus far makes a dent in this major problem. The run-away costs of the medical industry produce rapidly escalating prices for even the simplest forms of care. Medicines, which are developed in large part through tax dollars, are outrageously priced from the get-go, "in order to recoup development costs." And yet pharmaceuticals firms are making record profits.

Perhaps this all argues for no attempts to sustain life at later stages--that pharmaceuticals and artificial treatments that lengthen life and alleviate suffering really aren't all that important. I don't think this is true. Certainly there is no "right" to good medical treatment--not in the very broad sense that people today use the word "right." But there is an imperative that people who are not in a place to afford life-saving or pain-alleviating treatments be given some support in receiving these things.

I keep thinking of the dictum--"All it takes for evil to triumph is for good mean to do nothing." The evil described here is a natural evil. I don't think there is a conspiracy among medical firms and pharmaceuticals firms to deprive people of necessary medicines and treatments. I don't think there is any intent to reduce people who have served us all well to poverty on the basis of their need for medical treatment. Nevertheless, it does happen. And it is long past time that it should have stopped. Socialized medicine is not the answer--it is a disaster in countries like Canada and Great Britain when it comes to urgently needed care. Certainly we should take more care to plan for catastrophic illness; but even as we say that, there is the need to recognize that many people don't have the means to get through the month, much less plan for what might happen to them when they're 50 or 60 or 70 years old.

It is incumbent upon us to help diagnose the problem accurately and suggest a viable solution--one that does not pile the entire care of those without treatment on the backs of people who are themselves struggling to make ends meet. What form this can take, I don't know enough to say. But I would be happy to work with those who do understand the problem well and help devise a viable solution. It is our awareness of a problem and our willingness to really work with one another to solve it that leads ultimately to resolution.

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Well-said. It's seems a sign of America's decay that we've let this problem get to this point and have done nothing about it.

The waste and abuse is just unreal. My Grandmother received extremely expensive services in her last days - duplicate services. Medicare was told about the duplication several times but merely did the institutional equivalent of shrugging. So we saw first-hand tens of thousands of dollars wasted in a health care system that bankrupts others (as you discuss).

I wish there was a presidential candidate with answers on this front. Maybe there is and I just haven't been paying close enough attention.

I tried to post a comment earlier today, but the stblogs spam filter barred me. So, it's been lost to the ether.

Hey, I found that comment in my Sent box. The last comment worked, so I'll try again. Maybe it's the size of the comment.


I've always thought that if the Church wanted to be useful on this matter, She should organize a national, non-profit health insurance program run by one of the religious orders who now run hospitals. This isn't that new an idea. In Italy, there is an insurance cooperative originally organized by Catholics, Cattolica Assicurazioni. It would also have the benefit of offering insurance that is in line with Catholic teaching, so that I don't have to worry if my premiums are going to fund certain drugs that don't correspond well with my faith.

This would address one of the problems we have: many of the formerly not-for-profit insurance companies changed in the past decade to for-profits. They claimed that by attracting investment they would lower costs for their customers, but that doesn't appear to have panned out.

It would not address another one of the problems we have, which is the extravagant lifestyles of people involved in the medical and pharmaceutical professions. I had a friend who was (probably still is) married to a pharmaceutical sales representative. In addition to a solid salary with fantastic benefits, the company paid the bills for anything that could be remotely related to her job: high-speed internet at home, cell phone, gas for their minivan (less a certain monthly deductible, something like $80), and for at last part of the minivan too if I recall correctly. I know it sounds like a stretch, but I recall vividly my shock when he related it to me all her benefits. (Boy, did I choose the wrong field.) I recall infallibly his laughing that it was nice to drive on family vacations from Idaho to Colorado without having to pay for gasoline.

Dear Jack,

Comments are odd here and erratic--don't know what that is about.

On the other point--yes, extravagance that is largely unearned. However, the sales perks you describe are not unusual in any sales force. The company I work for doesn't sell anything like pharmaceuticals, but nearly all of those things and more are paid for by the company. It's the perk of sales. And frankly, those perks aren't worth the stress of the life--you have to have the right personality to be able to deal with that.

Thanks for writing.





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This page contains a single entry by Steven Riddle published on September 6, 2007 7:15 AM.

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