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Medicare HMO's Deny Drugs to Elderly

They're Only Old People, Why Waste Money on Them?

January 28, 2002

Medicare HMO's were set up by the nation's largest health insurers to cater to America's senior citizens.  These HMO's enticed the elderly to join up by touting as one of the benefits free prescriptions.  But now many of these HMO's have been eliminating coverage for prescription drugs, or requiring prohibitively high payments for them.

Will this be an anti-HMO rant?  Yes and no.

If the HMO's knew all along that they would sometime in the near future eliminate the very feature that convinced the elderly to sign on, then this bait-and-switch tactic is certainly vile.  But there is no evidence (yet) of such a strategy.

And in the HMO's defense, Medicare officials checked one HMO's increased fees and found that they did not exceed out-of-pocket costs for the applicable drugs.

Is the true villain here the drug companies, whose rapidly rising prices are one of the reasons cited by the HMO's for canceling drug coverage or jacking up fees?  Could be.  Drug costs to the insurers have been soaring 20 percent a year.  Perhaps the drug companies are price-gouging.  

Congress may be a villain here also, since in 1997 it imposed a 2-3 percent annual increase limit on Medicare payments to insurers in many areas of the country.  As noted, the drug costs to the insurers were rising at a 20 percent rate.

Medicare HMO's: The Real Villain

I think the real villain is all of the above, the system itself.  What kind of a society would fail to ensure that its elderly are well-cared for?  It infuriates me when I hear people defend not providing health care to children.  It possibly enrages me even more when such hard-heartedness is applied to the elderly.

These senior citizens gave us all life!  They're the only reason we're even here now, aren't they?  Mere gratitude should dictate treating them as royalty.

Conservative hogwash about limited government and our oh-so-heavy tax burden aside, can we truly say we can't afford to pay for the medications and treatment that elderly sick patients need?

To all you conservatives who fight against efforts to adequately fund programs to assist our parents and grandparents: did you repeatedly skip the Fifth Commandment every time you read the Bible?  To let all you right-wingers in on the secret, it says

Honor your father and your mother, that your days may be long in the land which the Lord your God gives you. (Revised Standard Version)

Instead of trying to plaster the Ten Commandments on every classroom wall or behind sitting judges in court, why not try to follow them instead?

And let's not forget the New Testament either.

The Medicare HMO cuts

leave the companies providing insurance to their healthy members, while tens of thousands of elderly patients with serious diseases like cancer have no affordable insurance coverage for their basic medical needs.

Does that perhaps bring to mind two certain related passages in Matthew which are, completely understandably,  rarely invoked by religious conservatives:

Truly, I say to you, as you did it to one of the least of these my brethren, you did it to me.

Truly, I say to you, as you did it not to one of the least of these, you did it not to me.
[Matthew 25:40, 45]

It's hard to imagine someone more a member of "the least of these" than an elderly, helpless person with a deadly disease like cancer who needs the help of society in securing medicine.

Plain and simple: are we going to help our parents and grandparents or not?  No excuses, ideological or otherwise, accepted.

This was a selection from The Daily Diatribe

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