More Jackson County Opinions...

MARCH 17, 2004


Column

By: Zach Mitcham
The Jackson Herald
March 17, 2004

Health care, a truly important moral issue for our nation
For many, the argument over gay marriage has come to represent the issue of the soul in this election year.
But there are other tests of our collective morality that get lost in this emotionally-charged environment of hype and hate spewed left and right.
For instance, here’s a notable moral issue: do we care whether drug companies keep up their profit lines at the expense of dying patients?
Our nation prides itself on free enterprise and the supply-demand tenet of capitalism. If you can get it cheaper elsewhere, well, that’s the economy at work. Go for it, right? We have a right to the best deal, don’t we? That’s America.
Wait a minute there.
No you don’t, not in medicine, not even if your mom or dad or son or daughter needs it to live. Sure, you might be able to get the medicine, but getting it at the lowest possible cost, that’s not a guarantee, even if you find it cheaper elsewhere.
I read about one appalling example of this in an article by Julia Whitty called “Smuggling Hope” in the April issue of Mother Jones magazine.
Whitty detailed her father’s fight to stay alive when faced with a rare form of cancer and a medicine that costs $47,000 a year (a price that truly shows a lack of common decency toward those who are suffering).
Like most of us, the ailing man simply couldn’t afford to spend that much. Nor could his family.
So Whitty began searching for a better deal on the medicine for her father.
After a lengthy search, she found a similar medicine sold abroad for $1,200 a year. So she went overseas, felt her heart race as she illegally smuggled the medicine through customs, then took the drug home to her father.
It worked. His health improved.
So his doctor wrote a prescription for the drug to save the daughter the expense of the trip abroad and the risk of getting busted for drug smuggling to save her dad’s life.
They waited and waited for the medicine to arrive, finally learning that it had been seized by the federal Food and Drug Administration, which was not convinced of the legality of the import.
The fact that a doctor could vouch for the effectiveness of the drug in treating the man was of no consequence. Whitty appealed to three congressmen and eventually got the medicine released from the FDA and delivered to her father. However, a later package of the drug was seized by the FDA and not even a member of congress could wrestle it free for her dad, who has since passed away.
Such is the system. We all sigh and agree that it stinks.
But we turn toward other issues when faced with complexities that accompany real health care talk. Yeah, there may be something horribly wrong, but it makes our heads hurt to think about moving a mountain of a system. Such arguments require logical precision aimed at the right people. They are not emotional issues of symbol that we can rally around and easily understand.
So we don’t really pay attention to see whether our legislators are more concerned with public protection or profit protection when it comes to health care.
It troubles us to even try.
So we just have faith that we’ll be treated right when we’re in need.
Unfortunately, the system does not reward such faith. The system is geared toward maintaining profits at the expense of patients. We all know this. We can read the bills we get in the mail.
Whitty points out that “the best selling prescription drugs in America are 77 percent higher than in Canada and Europe (where prices are tightly regulated).” She points out that “drug companies milk 66 to 75 percent of their profits from American consumers, who in essence subsidize cheap pills for Canadians and Europeans.”
“Yet despite this unwitting generosity, I cannot legally visit those countries and reimport what my subsidy sold them on the cheap in the first place,” she said.
The drug companies may say that the high costs are needed to fund research. However, Whitty points out that in 2002, the nine top publicly-traded U.S. companies that market drugs to seniors spent $45.4 billion on advertising, compared to $19.1 billion on research.
Is this not evident on the tube, where erectile dysfunction ads target men at every commercial break?
Think about it, the recently passed Medicare bill forbids Americans from importing U.S.-made drugs more cheaply from overseas.
Why?
Is restricting your options in your best interest or in the interest of powerful prescription drug companies? If our government doesn’t fix prices on medicine at a reasonable level, couldn’t it at least let patients have a choice in where they shop, letting basic supply-demand capitalism work for the sick, too? Why cripple patients by denying them the right to seek the best deal available? Companies can get their raw materials elsewhere — why not a patient seeking a life-saving medicine?
Isn’t this morally despicable?
I hope for the sake of all the ailing — and their loved ones who suffer too — that we can muster the moral backbone and the energy to keep our attention on life and death matters this election year.
The war, our care for the ill, for the elderly.
Let’s not allow sexual hype and divisiveness concerning gay marriage to cloud our view of all the silently-suffering individuals who feel abandoned by our health care system, by our general public.
Of course, the prescription drug debate is difficult and doesn’t make for titillating controversy where teams are easily drawn.
But if we want to talk about morality issues, let’s focus on the moral imperative of improving our health care system.
And recognize that losing focus of that important objective is morally wrong.
Zach Mitcham is editor of The Madison County Journal.

Jackson County Opinion Index

Column

By: Oscar Weinmeister
The Commerce News
March 17, 2004

His Tongue May Become Tied
Turner will be 7 months old on the 28th. We’re happy to report that his motor skills are developing at a pace that is well within the accepted normal range. He’s sitting up on his own; he’s able to transfer objects from one hand to the other and from the floor to his mouth.
We’re beginning to recognize definite signs that tell us about his mood. For instance, if he’s hungry, he cries. If he’s happy, he makes a pre-laugh sound and slaps his hand repeatedly on whatever happens to be in front of him, say, a stuffed animal or Daddy’s face. I am usually more than content to have my face slapped in that context, unless it’s been a while since those tiny-but-deadly fingernails have been trimmed.
One aspect of Turner’s behavior that’s been relatively constant regardless of his mood is the position in which he holds his mouth. It is almost always open, and there is almost always a string of saliva connecting his mouth with whatever object happens to be under his mouth, say his bib or Daddy’s face.
People say he holds his slobbery mouth open because he’s teething, but I don’t see much evidence of incisors yet, and his brother didn’t have his first until 8 or 9 months.
About 80 percent of the time his mouth is hanging open, Turner is also sticking out his tongue, pointed in a downward fashion, disturbingly like Gene Simmons without all the curly hair and makeup. Turner’s tongue is long, I think longer than mine. I am reasonably certain that if he tried he could touch his nose with the tip, and in a few years I’m predicting that he’ll be able to smooth his eyebrows.
As parents, we know that it’s too early to think about what kind of job Turner will hold down when he’s older, or what kinds of young ladies will want to date him, but I do admit that looking at him with his mouth curiously ajar a lot of the time, I have fleetingly, for a second or two, worried about his long term prospects.
To head this predicament off at the pass, we’re already sharing little sayings with him like, “Loose lips sink ships,” along with “Eating crow,” and “Tongue in cheek, (please)” and for the moment we are avoiding phrases like, “From the mouths of babes,” “living hand to mouth,” or “the world is your oyster.”
In the more immediate future, we have to worry about Turner starting to crawl, when if this tongue-hanging habit continues, he will in essence be trolling for lint. If he’s outside at all this spring, we all know he’ll catch his own weight in flies and other arthropods. Of course, if while he’s out there angling for bugs he happens to catch a few mosquitoes, we might be forced to rethink our position.
Oscar Weinmeister is the assistant administrator of BJC Medical Center. He lives in Commerce.


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