Recent Healthcare Woes and Diabetes

We are constantly keeping watch regarding problems with healthcare – especially with seniors and those who are disabled – these days. It is obvious to anyone who reads the papers, uses the internet or watches the news that there are some serious problems with healthcare and Medicare that lawmakers have no choice but to work on and they are trying to figure it all out. Meanwhile, there are real people with some serious problems falling through the cracks. The following editorial from Kalamazoo, Michigan shows just how serious the situation is. I usually don’t reprint other people’s stories, but this one is critically important and the credits are on the bottom of the page. Thank you Joyce Pines from the Kalamazoo Gazette for bringing situations this important to our attention. We all need to know what is happening not only in Kalamazoo, but in cities and towns throughout the country, a thousand fold.

Three different perspectives on health care crossed my desk Monday — a call from a woman who has been notified that her Medicaid payments are being cut, an e-mail implying that President Obama’s health proposals are out to cut Medicare and leave senior citizens to fend for themselves and an editorial board meeting with state Sen. Tom George about a package of bills he’s introduced in the Michigan Senate to expand health care coverage to more state citizens.

Let’s start with the phone call. A 47-year-old Kalamazoo resident called to discuss her dilemma which is: pay the rent or buy prescribed medications. She has diabetes which has left her blind. She is on five different medications which cost more than $1,200 a month by the time you add up the cost of both the pills and the supplies she needs to take those pills and monitor her condition (needles, test strips, alcohol swabs). She is disabled.

She is married but her husband, a veteran, fell in 2005 and suffered a severe spinal cord injury. He is also permanently disabled. Their total income from Medicaid, Social Security and such is $1,100 a month. They also receive food assistance.

In April, the state sent her a letter explaining her Medicaid benefits were going to be subject to a “spend down.” Her explanation of what that means is that basically the state says she has to pay the next $618 for her medication before the state payments will kick back in.

As she doesn’t know where the $618 is going to come from, she is likely to skip the medication for awhile, which is probably not a good idea given that her diabetes is so severe it caused her to go blind.

But that is a real world example of what happens when the state budget is cut.

Getting health care spending under control has been a priority for Tom George for all of the time I have known him as a state senator representing the 20th District, which is all of Kalamazoo County and a small piece of Van Buren County.

In short, he believes that Michigan residents should be encouraged to do things that will help them be healthy — like not smoke, exercise regularly and get appropriate health screenings. During the editorial board meeting Monday he said studies show that between 40 and 70 percent of health care costs are related to behaviors like smoking, not exercising, etc.

At the same time he believes there is an obligation to provide health care to all of Michigan’s citizens. To that end, he has worked with others to create a package of bills to address the concerns of insurers like Blue Cross Blue Shield and also the need to provide affordable insurance to as many people as possible.

He would prefer that each state create a workable system for its residents instead of creating a national single-payer system that would, in essence, give everyone health care but without an incentive to take better care of themselves. “If Republicans sit on their hands, we’ll end up with a national single-payer system,” he said.

What George does not have an answer for, right now, is that phone call I received from the woman with diabetes. Her story illustrates another aspect of the health care problem. A person has an illness, in this case diabetes, that requires an expenditure of more than $1,200 a month to control — that’s $14,400 a year. My question to him and in general is why does medication for an illness that is pretty common cost so much? How can we ever have an affordable system while the cost of medical procedures and medications continues to skyrocket?

George advocates health care plans that give people a financial incentive to quit smoking, exercise every week and get regular health screenings. I don’t object to that.

But I think the diabetic who called about her Medicaid changes would suggest that forcing anyone to choose between keeping a roof over their head or filling their prescriptions also endangers lives and may contribute to their early demise.

We need to ask tough questions about health care and we can start with carefully examining both the state legislation and the national legislation now being offered. Read up on it and contact your legislators, get involved and write responsible e-mails to promote discussion, not fright.

Health care is definitely the giant elephant in the room that everyone is having trouble talking about
Posted by Joyce Pines | Kalamazoo Gazette

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