Sunday, January 22, 2006

Health Issues Take to the Street

RepnancyjohnsonRep. Nancy Johnson, Chairman of the House subcommittee on Health, likely doesn’t know Steve Starnes, who has paranoid schizophrenia. Not the kind of guy she'd spend time with and who could blame her? It’s just as unlikely Sen. Mike Enzi knows him, although Mike chairs the Senate committee on health.


SenmikeenziThat’s understandable. Mike is from Wyoming, Nancy from Connecticut and both of them are a long way from Florida. Nancy and Mike both have press secretaries. The voices Steve hears are mostly in his head.


On the 7th day of the new Medicare benefit, there were no seven-swans-a-swimming for Steve, but the voices were back. Ominous voices, according to Robert Pear’s piece in the NY Times, and Steve begged his pharmacy for the medication he had been taking for ten years.


StevestarnesNo dice. Medicare no longer approved.


Steve was understandably scared. "Without them, I get aggravated at myself, have terrible pain in my gut, I feel as if I am freezing one moment and burning up the next moment. I go haywire, and I want to hurt myself." So, he was hospitalized, which is for-sure a more expensive treatment than continuing to provide controlling medication.


The Republican-controlled Congress continues to gut benefits to people like Steve Starnes for a variety of reasons, every single one of them fiscally irresponsible, including:


  • Continuing a tax giveaway to the rich

  • Avoiding a much needed increase in the gas tax

  • Funding a horrifically expensive and thus-far unfunded war

  • Trying to patch hurricane damage on the backs of the poor.

And if that makes you angry to hear, check out your own state legislature to find out if it is one of the two dozen that have legislated payment for prescription drugs if residents cannot obtain them by using the new Medicare drug benefit.


Increasingly, the mentally ill are being downloaded, like music on iPods, to the streets of our cities, where they make up a growing percentage of the homeless and ignored. Steve is among the fortunate, cared for by Dayspring Village, a Florida assisted living center for the mentally ill. But whether they are properly cared-for, left to the vagaries of the street or shut away in forgotten isolation, it continues to cost more to treat the ambulatory mentally ill in emergency rooms and mental hospitals than it does to medicate them fairly and properly.


Richard Gilbert at uuworld.org writes,

“As the income and wealth disparity between classes has grown in recent years and American society has become increasingly fractured, I fear that our collective conscience has seriously eroded. "To have is to deserve" seems to be our moral motto.

Yet at the deepest levels of our being, we who take pleasure in our unparalleled prosperity are vaguely anxious that millions of others in our midst are living in poverty. So, are we the deserving and they the undeserving? Is the marketplace the measure of all things? How much inequality of any type can a democracy experience and survive? What is economic justice? How much is enough? How much do we deserve?”

It’s a fair question. Nancy Johnson and Michael Enzi are not evil and uncaring people, they are just too far removed from the subject upon which they legislate. Steven Starnes is not their brother.


And yet Steve is the brother to us all and he’s in trouble.
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More about Conservative Politics at my opinion columns web site.