A Meeting of the Mindless

My wife suggested that we go to the meeting. I wasn’t enthusiastic, but she had a point: "We’ve got to decide eventually about this Medicare D business, so we might as well hear what these people have to say." "These people" were representatives of a health plan in which we already subscribed for our Medicare supplement.

I have an instinctive abhorrence of meetings, based upon long experience. Mass human behavior is not a pretty thing. The singing, if there is any, will be lead by the tone-deaf guy with a voice like a chain saw. The direction will be set by the fellow who can’t find his car in the parking lot; the strategy devised by a chap who can’t decide which sock is the right, and which the left; the actual chairman/moderator will be the dyslexic who stammers.

Besides, this meeting was scheduled to last for two hours! Much of that time would be spent by someone confusing us with the various choices available, and the rest by questions from the audience indicating that the listeners haven’t heard or understood a word that was spoken, with their ignorance/confusion buttered over with belligerence.

After fifteen minutes, my wife whispered to me, "Do you want to go? This girl is confusing me." Well, she was confusing me, too, although she was chosen for this job as an officer of one of the largest health-insurance companies in the area, if not the nation. That fact alone did not inspire confidence. We left.

Why should there be confusion? The basic concept is simple: using the power of government to force people all over the country to subsidize the subscriber’s drug bills. Yet we were told that there are eighteen companies providing this coverage, and over forty different plans available.

What they are offering, ultimately, as are those offering hospital and medical insurance, is a sort of immortality. "Sickness? Don’t worry! Give us some money, and pay the government what it demands, and you will get the finest, most expensive medical care in the world, including free, or neatly-free, drugs!" Ah, were it only so!

The room was filled with oldsters, of course — some even older than me! Mutterings of "What did she say?" were heard frequently, along with shouts of "Speak up!" Yet, despite the antiquity of the audience, none seemed to recall earlier days, when neither drugs, nor hospital care, nor doctor bills, were covered by insurance. Amazingly, people lived! Even to old age! And they did it without taking drugs, or very few of them. And the drugs that did exist were cheap. I recall patients taking digitalis leaf — the actual powdered leaf of the digitalis plant. It worked just fine, and cost very little. Today, artificial drugs cost a fortune to develop, and thus a fortune to buy. Do they work better than the old drugs, or no drugs at all? Sure they do, but not in all instances, and no doubt they prove harmful in some cases.

And modern physicians can’t compare them with the older, cheaper, drugs of yesteryear, because, in many cases, they don’t even know of such drugs, or would dismiss them out of hand if they were recommended. I have a friend who has suffered for years from chronic pneumonitis, caused by Pseudomonas. Sputum cultures were consistently positive, despite massive doses of horribly expensive antibiotics. Then colloidal silver was suggested, and taken. Sputum cultures since have been negative, and the patient’s general health and vitality greatly improved. Her internist can’t deny the improvement, but won’t attribute it to the silver, of course! It would have occurred anyway; the silver just happened to come on the scene at the right time. Uh-huh.

So the parade toward Medicare D is being led by those who can’t read a compass, according to a plan devised by the fellow who leaves his umbrella in the car, lest it get wet. Since my wife and I left early, I can’t say that somebody didn’t suggest that the group spend their money not on premiums for expensive and frequently (too frequently?) prescribed drugs, but rather for information on natural, or alternative, or even "unapproved" treatments, but I’d bet it didn’t happen. Has anyone ever compiled statistics comparing those taking the trendy new expensive drugs to those who didn’t, in terms of mortality and morbidity? Maybe, but I’ve never seen them, and I’ll bet that my fellow oldsters haven’t either. The implication is clear: take this drug, or risk death, whereas the alternative might be: take this drug, and die anyway!

For my part, I’m not going to join a choir until I find one with a choirmaster who sings like Placido Domingo.

Dr. Hein [send him mail] is a retired ophthalmologist in St. Louis, and the author of All Work & No Pay.