Mom’s allergy doctor isn’t shy about telling me what he thinks–about anything. The other day, after Mom’s appointment, the doctor and I had a candid discussion about Medicare. I tell ya, it was an eye opener.
Since Daddy died and Mom lost most of her vision, I’ve been handling her business, including her medical bills. Between Medicare and her supplemental insurance, she’s in great shape. She never has to pay a penny beyond the premiums on her supplement. For the elderly, this is how it should be. They’ve done their time, paid their dues, and their lives should be considerably easier during their retirement years.
But I’ve looked at the cavernous discrepancy between what the medical charges are and what Medicare actually pays.
The doctor drove the point home last week.
Mom went in for her annual breathing test to see whether her meds were still effective for her asthma and for her damaged lungs. The first test is without meds, the second is with. For both tests, she breathes into a tube that feeds into a machine which measures her lung capacity. The tube and mouth cover are disposable plastic–which makes great sense. Ya don’t want to be sticking something in your mouth that has been resting in someone else’s, right?
So, she breathes into the tube which measures her capacity, then she inhales her medicine (also through a tube), and returns to the machine. She has a nurse attending her all the way. So, just based on what I know, that’s at least one tube and mouthpiece (at a cost of approximately $9.00), one machine (which, according to the doctor, was $37,000), one dose of Albuterol or its equivalent (possibly a sample from a pharm. rep. so maybe it doesn’t count), one nurse, and one doctor, all housed in a rented office fully operational with water, air conditioning, electricity, office and medical equipment and supplies, and staffed with a host of professionals expecting paychecks at regular intervals.
How much does Medicare pay for this procedure? Six dollars.
If it wasn’t for his patients with regular insurance, the doctor couldn’t afford to keep his practice open. I think I mentioned once before having to find a family doctor for Mom and how difficult that was since more and more doctors are refusing Medicare patients. According to the allergist, there isn’t a single dermatologist in the area that takes Medicare–fine for them, since they don’t have a high percentage of elderly patients. But urologists do. The Bryan/College Station area has a team of three urologists operating out of one office. Medicare patients make up 80% of their practice. The allergist told me they were considering closing their practice–they’ll decide after November 6. At one point, Mom’s oncologist told me his office continually ran in the red. There is no money in medicine, according to him.
The dilemma facing most doctors–the entire medical community–is how to stay in business, how to treat patients, in the face of diminishing funds.
Politically, there are two strategies to deal with this mess. One is to increase taxes, the other is to work internally to put a stop to fraudulent abuse of the system. Then there’s the whole movement to do a Medicare-like cradle-to-grave plan for the entire nation. A newspaper editor actually told me how excited she is about a nationwide healthcare plan because “it is the responsibility of those who ‘have’ to take care of those who ‘have not.'” Funny thing is, I don’t have any trouble with that statement. That’s why I support certain charities. I’m just wondering what it is in the federal government’s track record with managing funds of any kind that says they’re qualified and capable of running such an extensive system without driving the entire medical industry to extinction.
I rarely write this kind of post. In fact, I have gone through my blog and deleted every political/social-issue post I’ve ever written. In spite of my tough-gal facade, I do not like conflict. I despise election years when the hatred between proponents of the two ideologies is palpable. I hate the lies that are broadcast, and more, I hate the fact that so many of them are believed as truth. I am heartbroken at how little understanding many in this nation exhibit. I don’t like it when things are so twisted that to disagree with someone makes a person a racist, to disagree with a proposed remedy indicates a desire to doom those poor people the remedy is to help to their destructive fates. I hate it all.
But I will go out on a limb and say this: The federal government has shown itself incapable of effectively running Medicare–not to mention Medicaid and VA medical benefits. It has been fiscally irresponsible dealing with the healthcare of a small portion of the American population. What on earth makes anyone think it can handle the healthcare of the entire nation?