Monday, October 30, 2006

Stick out your tongue and say, “Hell no!” Here's why most seniors won’t be fooled by the Bush Administration’s latest Medicare flim-flam attempt

Oh, those doctrinaire free market Bushniks! There they go again, trying to privatize you out of the benefits you’ve worked hard for all your life.

According to a story in the October 30th New York Times, five U.S. Senators and Representatives on committees charged with overseeing Medicare caught the Republican administration at its latest attempt to trick old folks out of taking full advantage of their benefits. The annoyed members of Congress gave it to Health and Human Services secretary Michael O. Leavitt with both barrels.

“The 2007 handbook strongly favors health maintenance organizations, preferred provider organizations and other private Medicare Advantage plans over the traditional Medicare fee-for-service program,” they complained.

They called the handbook’s recommendations “misleading” and “biased.”


"Misleading" and "biased" are nice ways of saying, "You're a trash-talking liar." Fortunately, Leavitt won’t fool any senior who at some time in his life had to put up with the requirement that you visit a doctor for permission to visit a different doctor. Or with some clerk making a medical decision about whether you could or could not seek the care or procedure you needed. Or with an HMO telling you the equivalent of, "That procedure's not covered, so drop dead."

Yeah, the Leavitt/Bush Health and Inhuman Services Department points out that some HMOs will pay for your eyeglasses and some dental services. But they fail to point out that the dentistry rarely includes the kinds of dental services you need most late in life, like dental implants to replace lost teeth. Admittedly, getting your teeth cleaned is almost free under some HMO plans – if you have any teeth left to clean by the time they’re done with you.

As for those eyeglasses, well, if you want to choose from the selection of cheesy-looking frames set aside by your HMO, welcome to it, pal. Maybe after that you can get a walk-on part on Ugly Betty.

More important than ugly glasses and limited dental care, your HMO may block you from seeing a specialist who has a more reliable (but more expensive) way of, for example, saving your life than a hack doctor who signed up with a tight-fisted HMO. Remember, insurance companies aren't in business to buy you medical care. Insuranced companies are in business to make the fattest profit they can from your health care premiums, whether you, your employer or the government is paying them.


True story: Two and a half years ago, I had kidney cancer. My HMO doctor had a quick solution. He insisted he had to cut out the kidney, the whole kidney, and nothing but the kidney right away – before he left on vacation.

Fortunately, just at that moment I became old enough for Medicare. I enrolled and then went to see a urological surgeon who really knew his stuff. “No,” said the better surgeon, “it would be a mistake to take out your whole kidney. You have a blood pressure problem, and if the whole kidney goes, the pressure problem will be worse. Besides, you can just cut out the cancer and some of the tissue around it and you’ll be fine. ”


So the surgery was done laparoscopically, saving 90 percent of the kidney and weeks of recovery time. And I’m cured. It's more than two years later and MRI tests show there's no kidney cancer left in my body.

You want to trade that kind of medical care for an HMO surgeon who’s in a rush to hack out your kidney, and a pair of free eyeglasses to go with your cheap false choppers? Do you think any member of the Bush family would settle for that? Do you think Secretary Leavitt would settle for that for himself? If you do, sign up for your Senior HMO and I wish you lotsa luck, sucker. See you in the coffin.

You’ll find the full New York Times story at:

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