An article by Robert Pear in today’s New York Times reports that mentally ill patients who previously obtained medication on their Medicare plan no longer can from their pharmacies. As someone with mental illness in my family as well as friends who also have mental illness in their families, I am sensitive to this issue. Simply put, people with schizophrenia cannot function in society without their medication. It is as important to their existence as food, water, and air is to the rest of us.
I am surprised to learn from the article that the new law had any impact on the mentally ill. My impression was the new drug benefit law only impacted the elderly. The article reports however that,
“Mix-ups in the first weeks of the Medicare drug benefit have vexed many beneficiaries and pharmacists. Dr. Steven S. Sharfstein, president of the American Psychiatric Association, said the transition from Medicaid to Medicare had a particularly severe impact on low-income patients with serious, persistent mental illnesses.”
Consequently, some schizophrenic patients who were functioning in society are being re-hospitalized. Even worse, when treatment is disrupted in such a fashion, a schizophrenic’s entire disposition can change dramatically. They may become a danger to themselves as well as others.
The New York Times does note that 24 states are taking emergency action to pay for prescription drugs for those mentally ill patients who can’t under the new Medicare drug benefit. Not surprisingly, Jeb Bush’s Florida is not among those states. This to me is yet another example of flawed conservative ideology. Are we not all one country? Prior to this ridiculous new law, patients nationwide were obtaining the needed pharmaceuticals so they could participate in society. Now depending on what state they happen to reside, a schizophrenic may transform from a functioning member of society to a potential suicide victim or even a violent criminal. Isn’t compassionate conservatisim wonderful?
Even the cruel Bush Administration retains civic professionals in the Federal bureaucracy. As the New York Times reports, 250 federal employees were enlisted as caseworkers to help individual patients and the government has directed insurers to “provide a temporary supply – typically 30 days – of any prescription that a person was previously taking.” Furthermore, Medicare has transmitted data to insurers that are supposed to list all low-income people eligible for help with premiums and co-payments.
Nevertheless, the article also notes that pharmacists still cannot obtain the information required to submit claims to confirm eligibility. This translates into critical time lost for patients in need. As anyone who knows mentally ill people can attest, even a few hours without medication can have dire consequences. If this problem is not properly addressed forthwith, hospitals are likely to be overburdened, suicides will increase, and so will crime perpetrated by delusional people who don’t have access to their meds.
I can’t help but wonder what Senator Pete Domenici of New Mexico is thinking. Senator Domenici is one of the few Republican politicians I have any warm feelings for. I disagree with his politics intensely. However, due to the mental illness of his daughter, the conservative Republican joined with the late Senator Paul Wellstone of Minnesota in an unlikely alliance to expand coverage for the mentally ill and remove the stigma about mental illness. Both Senators were apart ideologically but formed a bond from their own family experiences. For Senator Wellstone, his brother’s mental illness was a catalyst to action. It was widely reported that Senator Domenici was distraught over Wellstone’s tragic death. Since, Domenici was a supporter of President Bush’s new prescription drug law, one wonders if he fully appreciated the consequences for the mentally ill and society at large. Domenici is a powerful Senator and hopefully he can be persuaded to mobolize his colleagues to take corrective action.
In the name of compassionate conservatism, the insurance companies have been given a boondoggle that will needlessly enhance the misery of the mentally ill, their families, and overburden society. Heck of a job Mr. President. Well done.