I have Rheumatoid Arthritis. I have private health insurance. That means that I am being given pain pills, but I’m also being given medications called “DMARDS” or Disease Modifying Anti-Rheumetic Drugs. While there is no cure for RA, there are treatment options like Methotrexate, Remicade and Enbrel which slow the progression of the disease and give RA patients a much greater quality of life.
I have a friend who has a similar disease but is on a form of government-sponsored health care called TennCare. Created in cooperation with then VP Al Gore as a model for the type of Health Care proposed by the Clinton Administration, TennCare has been up and running in Tennessee for years now. It was heralded as the answer to prayer by all the folks who found themselves unable to be insured by traditional health care providers. A lot of those people were–like me–suffering from AutoImmune Disease.
My friend on TennCare is not given any DMARDs. She IS given piles of pain pills…as much Vicodin as she can handle. While I’m able to occasionally do the grocery shopping, she spends much of her days in a haze, fighting a losing battle against pain.
Because, you see, Vicodin is a lot cheaper than the medicines that actually control the disease. You could take 300 pills of Vicodin a day and still not come anywhere close to the cost of the drugs which actually modify your disease. And since TennCare is costing Tennesseans so much money already, they aren’t really eager to prescribe the expensive stuff.
I happen to think that it’s no coincidence that Tennessee leads the nation in number of Vicodin prescriptions. Many of those are going to TennCare patients. The characterisation in a lot of circles is that those TennCare patients are junkies who resell the pills on the street. No one wants to admit that the TennCare patients are being given “shut up and go away” drugs in lieu of actual, more costly, treatment.
If TennCare was created as the model for a National Health Care system, don’t you think it’s time that we as a nation take another look at how TennCare is working in the lives of real people?