2004-06-11 / Columnists

Chatting with Chapey

by Dr. Geraldine M. Chapey, Democratic District Leader

Dr. Geraldine ChapeyDr. Geraldine Chapey

by Dr. Geraldine M. Chapey, Democratic District Leader

Does Our Health Care System Need Resuscitation?

There are many facets of the health care system which need our attention. The rising increase in the cost of health care is demanding more of the family budget.

Drug costs are rising faster than the inflation rate. With regard to drugs there are two issues which demand our consideration: (1) how fast are the prices of drugs rising and (2) who can prescribe drugs?

The Wall Street Journal on June 1, 2004 in an article written by Sarah Lueck on page D 4 addressed the cost of drugs in its article entitled "Rise in Drug Prices Well Outpaces Overall Inflation". The prices of brand name prescription drugs are increasing at dramatic rates. This increase hits the senior population in the pocket book because they often rely on medications which are costly. The new federal Medicare drug plan doesn’t go into effect completely until 2006. However, the drug benefit passed by Congress last year does provide for a discount drug card which will be available next month. According to Lueck, Families USA reports that medications will still be unaffordable even with the discount card.

Lueck points out that the prices of 30 of the most frequently used drugs by seniors have a price increase of four times the inflation rate from January, 2003 to January, 2004. Since many seniors live on a fixed income these price increases will eat into their savings.

Senator Charles Schumer is calling for action to be taken to address the drug price issue. Currently New York State requires that pharmacies have a printed price list. Schumer feels that consumers need more information in order to be able to do comparison shopping. He is introducing legislation which would mandate that states must list the prices of drugs on line so that we can comparison shop at home on line for the pharmacy which has the lowest price for our prescription.

The drug companies such as Pfizer, Bristol Myers, Squibb and Eli Lilly were quoted by Lueck as justifying the drug price increases by claiming that these adjustments are called for because they are comparable to the rate of medical inflation in the overall health industry. These rationalizations don’t help the consumer. Health care prices today are rising at an alarming rate.

One group which is following the drug price increase is AARP according to Lueck. They are publishing a report which will appear four times a year entitled "Watch Dog Report". It will concentrate on the shift in drug prices and point out the policies of various drug companies. Make this a must on your reading list.

Another area which demands our attention is who can prescribe drugs. According to the Wall Street Journal article written by Jane Spencer on June 1, 2004 page D 1 many states are giving the right to prescribe drugs to non physicians who work in the health field. These changes are meant to allow patients more accessibility to prescriptions. However, the individuals prescribing the drugs do not have the years of specialized schooling required of physicians.

Spencer notes that there are serious concerns about loosening the prescription process because we need to watch for medication safety. However, it would save money if we allow non physicians to prescribe drugs. Many states are modifying the rules and allowing pharmacists, psychologists and naturopathic doctors to prescribe drug treatment. Physicians are lobbying against these changes. Spencer notes that physicians claim that loosening the rules would undercut the high standards that we have in our health system. The insurance companies are lobbying in favor of loosening the rules because they would save money. The federal government, Spencer notes, is in favor of the modified rules because it would help in increasing the national immunization rates.

Currently in New York (according to Spencer) midwives are allowed to prescribe drugs, including antidepressants and pain killers, for women after they give birth. These midwives have only one or two years of medical training. Some states have addressed this issue by permitting non physicians to work as part of a medical team supervised by a physician.

Speaking of health issues, when choosing a hospital look for one with favorable architectural surroundings. An article in the June 4, 2004 edition of the Wall Street Journal written by Alex Frangos stresses that a favorable and pleasant hospital environment can have measurable positive effects on patients. In our area we are extremely fortunate to have three excellent hospitals: Peninsula Hospital, Jamaica Hospital and St. John’s Hospital. Peninsula Hospital had its annual meeting on Monday, June 7, 2004. They highlighted the new emergency room. Thanks to the outstanding and dynamic leaders at Peninsula – Robert Levine and Joel Miele, Peninsula Hospital can truly boast about their magnificent facility. Levine and Miele are outstanding professionals with keen insights and a remarkable vision for our health care services.

Two other health care issues were reported on this month which are important: (1) children who develop cancer are treated and do not have a relapse can live for 20 years or more. In addition 78% of children who have bone marrow transplants have survived over 15 years. In the 1960’s these children would have died. This information was reported in the New York Post on June 7, 2004, (2) Drugs which lower the cholesterol called statins may also be useful in preventing cancer as reported in the New York Post on June 7, 2004.

It is important that you communicate your opinions regarding health care issues to your elected officials. Let them know which issues are of most concern to you.

They can help us to resuscitate our health care system.

On another note the Trinity luncheon held on April 29, 2004 will be featured on "The Eyes of the Irish" narrated by the talented M.C. Michael Benn. Mike does an outstanding job in bringing informative and timely subjects to our attention. The program on the Trinity luncheon will be on Tuesday, June 15th at 4 PM and Wednesday, June 16th at 9:30 PM on Channel 34. Thanks to Mike Benn and his entire family for their commitment to providing excellent pertinent and important issues on the TV show.

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