Jason Altmire: Proposing a Health-Care Disaster
In this column, I'd like to focus on another life-and-death subject: pharmaceuticals. In recent columns, I've suggested that people like Jason Altmire, congressperson-elect from the 4th District of Pennsylvania, have taken positions that would be diastrous to consumers of health care.
Yes, I've long been a fan of Melissa Hart, whom Altmire defeated in the 2006 election. However, what he (a self-described "health care expert") says about the government's pharmaceutical plan for seniors is dead wrong.
Altmire's real criticism of Medicare Plan D appears to be that it's "too complicated" for older Americans. What that means is that it strongly encourages seniors to think and to make economically and medically sound choices.
The plan he seemingly favors -- the one offered by his former employer, UPMC -- has a "list of [preferred] medications," or a formulary. That means it's like all the other Plan D options, including mine.
The plan I chose (United Healthcare), like UPMC's, encourages patients to choose less expensive generic drugs when their doctors approve. Such generics are the therapeutic equivalent of more expensive branded drugs.
For example, I used to take Avandia for Type II diabetes. It cost $168 a month and and put me quickly into the Plan D "doughnut hole" (i.e., used up all my insurance coverage).
I asked my doctor if I could try switching to generic Metformin, which I did and found it worked well. Metformin costs $8 a month at CVS -- and $4 a month at Giant Eagle/Wal-Mart/Target.
As a result of removing a high-cost drug from my life, I can sing "Bye bye doughnut hole" for 2007. The doctor also has switched me from a branded prostate drug to a generic one -- Terazosin -- and that will end up saving me about $500 a year out-of-pocket.
In contrast to what Altmire and others say, Medicare regularly tells its insureds to consult with their doctors before changing medications.
What's the upshot for wife and me? In 1991, my wife had a stroke, followed by seizure disorder and depression, and she now takes seven medications.
Most of them are now available in generic form. By the end of 2007 all of them will be, and her monthly co-pays will be less than $100 per month.
By 2008, if she stays on the same drugs, her co-pays will be at most $35 a month. (When drugs "go generic," their prices -- and the co-pays required -- remain relatively high for six months, then decline as new competitors enter the generic market.)
As for me, I take four medications and all of them are generic. If i stay on all of them -- and don't add any others -- my co-pays per in 2007 and afterwards will total at most $20.
Pre-2006, before my wife and I had Medicare Plan D, our out-of-pocket costs exceeded $500 a month. We'll much prefer the $55 per month in 2008 -- and the savings of many thousands of dollars.
I don't think my wife and I are that atypical. We're making informed decisions that save us personally and the government a lot of money.
So, how on earth can someone like Altmire say that Plan D will cost seniors "thousands?" Yes, he won the election, but that just means he fooled a lot of people.
"You can fool all of the people some of the time, and you can fool some of the people all of the time, but you can't fool all the people all the time." Commit that one to memory, Jason.