Thursday, December 22, 2005

The Medicare drug "benefit"--benefits whom, again?

So there, I said it. This morning's story on NPR nicely illustrates two important points about the new Medicare drug benefit, which has been touted by its supporters as an improvement for elderly Americans.

Point number one: It's going to be a disaster. The people it's supposedly helping are being asked to choose from a bewildering number of plans, which can differ in cost by thousands of dollars, depending on a given person's (current!!) medications. The NPR story features an interview with a woman who does this for a living--and it takes her about an hour and a half to figure out what is the best choice for a particular person. Oh, and the tools people are supposed to use for this? The Internet. . . and while many of us know tech-savvy elders, it's simply irresponsible for the Internet to be positioned as the primary resource here. There are toll-free numbers set up for assistance, to be sure, but reports indicate that it's hard to get through to a live person. And we're not even talking yet about the actual implementation of this behemoth. Why did we do this, again? Oh, yeah--so that pharmas would have an opportunity to maximize profits. What part of "safety net" don't we understand?

Point number two: Given the inadequate support being provided for elders, guess who is supposed to leap in to fill the gap? The "adult children" of these folks, that's the plan. Let's be honest, folks: that's daughters and daughters-in-law. Just one more example of uabsolutely essential work (unpaid, "caring-centered," time-consuming, and invisible) that ends up on women's plates by fiat and assumption. Externalized costs, anyone?

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