by The Rev. Dr. H. Gene Straatmeyer
I had to fill a prescription today. The new medicine cost $9.16 a pill. I paid $2.34 for each pill while the insurance company paid $6.82 each.
I suggested to the young pharmacist that the price per pill was exceptionally high – maybe even outrageous. Then I asked him what was happening to the elderly who couldn’t pay such prices – those who had no insurance or even those whose co-pay was so high they couldn’t afford it?
The pharmacist shared how he has been telling his friends that his is one of the most difficult jobs around. What he meant was that he has to deal with the elderly daily and the medicines that doctors prescribe are sometimes out of the reach of those who need them. The pharmacy is right across the street from a large apartment building for senior citizens, so he probably deals with more than his share of the elderly.
I understand, I think, how the pharmacist feels. This week I met an elderly person barely able to walk. The person was a stranger but I could see the pain on his face with each step he took. Since he was wearing shorts I could see severe black and blue on the calf of his leg. I asked if I could help — the answer was negative. I suggested a doctor should take a look at it. The answer was that a doctor couldn’t do anything anyway. His real answer was that this senior citizen couldn’t afford to see a doctor because his resources weren’t sufficient to cover the cost of the care he needed.
With fifty million people in this country without medical insurance, what is the answer to the current medical crisis?
Do we want to go back to where we were when I was a kid? After my birth, the first time I ever saw a doctor was when a bee somehow crawled into my ear when I was a fourth grader and the second time was when I had to have a certificate in order to play high school football.
I had asthma when I was a kid and I remember gasping for breath while I inhaled some smoke from powder on a dish that burned when it was lit. Today I have an inhaler that does wonderful things for my lungs and not such wonderful things for my bank account.
I remember mumps and chicken pox. But what I really remember is German measles and how sick I was for a very long time. I remember my friend, who developed whooping cough and missed so much school, had to do the fifth grade over. I remember, gratefully now, how the young were immunized for polio during the polio outbreak in the late 1940’s – by the government, I assume. That was the first immunization I ever had and I was 14 years old. My aunt, the mother of three young children, died during that outbreak and I wasn’t allowed to attend the funeral for fear I might catch the disease. Several football games were cancelled in order to keep people out of crowds.
I remember my dad dying suddenly of a heart attack just a year or two after he retired. He never was able to see his grandchildren grow up. The same for my wife’s father! He struggled with a bad heart for years before he collapsed on a city street. No heart surgery then to lengthen their lives. Neither did they know about the benefit of exercise or proper eating for heart health.
I remember when an appendectomy was major surgery. I remember a cousin whose limbs were gone by his early 30’s from diabetes. I remember when 70 was a ripe old age.
I asked the pharmacist if we were heading back to those days when people died earlier because medicine was not as far advanced and when people stayed away from physicians because they had no money. He said he hoped not.
What is the solution to the health crisis today?
As a Christian, when I search for a solution I have to take into account what I think God’s answer would be. Does the Bible inform me about an answer? I think it does! It taught me compassion! It taught me morality! It taught me the need for justice! It taught me that I should love my neighbors and even my enemies. It taught me to share with the poor. Those things I just mentioned should be included in the political solutions concerning health care.
Ron Paul is my representative in Congress and not long ago he debated with other Republican candidates for president. The question posed was if a young man chose not to buy insurance and then got sick, what do we (society) do, let him die? Paul responded, “That’s what freedom is all about, taking your own risks.” Some audience members clapped at his answer. He did also say it would be up to neighbors, friends and churches to help the young man.
I have heard a number of times recently that the government shouldn’t help and that welfare should be left to the churches. I can’t imagine the churches in my community picking up the tab for medicines the people of our community need on a regular basis – it is financially impossible. And what about hospitalization? I was hospitalized last year and the bill was $28,000. The churches should pick up that tab? The churches already have their hands and hearts involved with the sick and needy. At least in my community they do. A few churches I know have added a nurse to the church staff instead of another associate pastor. Great! But I don’t know many churches with such large budgets.
Right now I feel helpless in the face of what may be coming. So do many others. I certainly hope and pray my grandchildren and great grandchildren aren’t tossed back to the time of my childhood because medical care will not be affordable for them or their children.