Metropolitan News-Enterprise


Tuesday, August 5, 2008


Page 7



Cancer Drugs or Vacation Spas: Take Your Pick




As we move into our new future and our new economic world, the once affluent United States should be at our gilded age - and fair to all.

Politics alone, good or bad, can’t be held responsible for all that is or will be happening. But politics will be and are responsible for many of the negative changes. For example, we need to be aware of the fact that the first baby boomer retirees began receiving their first Social Security checks this last January.

We must also be aware that our U.S. health insurance system is not accommodating itself to a decent and satisfying future for many of us, including the rising wave of new retirees.

The Wall Street Journal ran a story recently showing some of the weaknesses in our healthcare system. It published a story with the IN MY OPINION (Column) “Cancer Tab: Pricey Drugs Put Squeeze on Doctors.”

It appears a pharmaceutical company has come up with a new drug that treats lung cancer. The average cost for use of this lifesaving drug is $56,000. In addition, it can take up to 90 days for Medicare or a private insurance plan to be reimbursed for a treatment, including use of this lifesaving drug.

And it can take even longer for patients to come up with the private funds necessary to pay when Medicare or your private insurance refuses payment. Drug companies say they must charge premium prices in order to recoup the roughly $1 billion they say it costs to bring new drugs to market.

In 2007, the cost of using cancer drugs alone totaled an estimated $89 billion in this country. These high costs are forcing doctors to consider exorbitant drug rates when developing treatment options for their patients.

The Wall Street Journal article said: “One woman with metastastic breast cancer wondered aloud if she would have to mortgage her home to pay for two more cycles of Avistin [the cancer drug of choice for her].”

All of this spending on cancer drugs alone illustrates the severity of the problems facing our current healthcare system.

The Washington Post warns that the next president will have a most difficult time making good on campaign promises. Republican Congressman Paul D. Ryan, a member of the Congressional Budget Committee, has observed: “The government is making promises to people right now it knows it cannot keep. And you have some candidates piling more promises on top, which are clearly unfulfillable [sic].”

As former House Budget Committee Chairman Leon Panetta acknowledges, the financial situation is now much worse than it was in 1993 when Clinton was forced to abandon promises of a middle class tax cut made before he took office.

Panetta says, “Costly wars in Iraq and Afghanistan alongside the rising costs of Social Security and Medicare [means that] we’re looking at a $400 billion deficit this year with the economy in recession or near recession. The likelihood is that it’s going to get worse. And the fundamental problem is that there’s very little willpower by Republicans or Democrats to confront the issue.”

The U.S. is not alone with budget problems. France has a budget problem, too. But it is nowhere near as severe as our own. The Wall Street Journal reports that France’s President Nicolas Sarkozy announced 23,000 civil service job cuts. The story said France “was in a lather” as the French president took “a swipe at costly benefits.”

Given the threatened cuts by Sarkozy, protests are being staged across the country. In the town of Carhaiz, residents have rallied against a plan to shut down the state run hospital and maternity units.

Over the years, the French National Health Insurance program has footed the bill for all-expense paid vacations to local spas. For many people, it’s like a free holiday. One Ms. Surmont said that her mud wraps and massages were prescribed by her doctor to soothe her ailing back.

France’s national audit office said that it was time for the spa to cut its staff. So the spa staff went out on strike. A 10-day strike in March left 1700 patients stranded in their bathrobes.

In the U.S., it’s the likelihood of lifesaving cancer drugs not being available due to outrageous prices. In France, it is service at a vacation spa that might become less available in the near future. Something needs to change somewhere!

©2008, Capitol New Services