Capitalistic Medicine 2012

May 12

Capitalistic Medicine Hits My Family Big Time

Question: What do you get when you cross the medical profession with capitalism?

Answer: You get a gigantic, money sucking monster called the Health Care Industry.

Question: What costs $102,000 per year, costs money day and night, and isn't covered by Medicare or health care insurance and hasn't been alleviated by recent attempts to reform the system?

Answer: 24/7 elder care.

Question: What nation is stupid enough to create such a system?

Answer: As if this weren't already widespread knowledge, the United States.

My wife and I visited my parents again yesterday. I say again, because we have begun to go to there house a couple times per week. Neither of my parents is driving anymore, and for the past few weeks, they have had a 24/7 health care staff at their house.

Let me give some background regarding the situation. My 84 year old father has had bad anxiety problems for several years. A couple of years ago, he spent over a month in a hospital with anxiety problems, and last year, he developed prostate problems. Before these past couple of years, my father had been relatively healthy. In fact, he retired a few years ago at the age of 78 from his full time job as a Medi-Cal Consultant (a doctor who determines Medi-Cal payments, ironically) for the State of California. One problem I had noticed with him over about the past 10 years was shakiness, something like Parkinson's Disease, which has gotten progressively worse. According to other, medically trained people such as my wife, however, this is not Parkinson's Disease. He was checked for hyperthyroidism recently, but that isn't it, either. Nobody seems to know what is making him shaky, except that he is physically weak. (My father never was very strong.)

My father is taking various kinds of medications. When we went over his medications last week, the number had been reduced from what it was previously, by 3 drugs, but he is still taking 3 types of anti-anxiety and anti-depressant pills, down from 4. Two of these are at normal dosages, but the other, Cymbalta, is at a very high dosage. Needless to say, as a psychologist who believes in very limited use of such drugs, I find my father to be disgustingly overdosed on these drugs. In fact, he has literally overdosed 3 times on them, most recently, on the first day of this semester, February 13. After that, he spent something like 2 months in a rehab center, where basically nothing was done for him. He was supposed to have prostate surgery, to allow him to remove the catheter that had been inserted into his bladder, but that never happened. Now, this surgery is scheduled for May 21, at last. Meanwhile, when my father was in the rehab center, my mother's condition went downhill. She was very upset about my father being in the rehab center, and being apart -- so upset, in fact, that she forgot to take her thyroid hormone for the entire 2 months. (My mother is severely hypothyroid.) She lay in bed without her thyroid medication, lost weight, became constipated and was in so much pain that she even had trouble sleeping, which is not like her. When my father finally came home about a month ago, part of the deal was that he would have 24/7 elder care. The person in charge of the health care operation is Mia, a nice but rather assertive woman from Greece originally. Mia had been helping my dad for several years, ever since he began to have anxiety issues. Mia was the person who drove my father to group therapy sessions, and helped him with medical decisions, etc. Sadly, but I think incorrectly, the overdoses my father has had, have been classified as suicide attempts. I think I know my father well enough to know that he wasn't attempting to kill himself, and probably never would. But, nobody asked me. In fact, his most recent overdose was the day one of his "psych. meds" was increased in dosage. Apparently, he thought it wasn't working, so he took more and overdosed. As shaky as my father is, I suspect that he sometimes puts more pills in his hands than he intends to, and swallows them, thus overdosing. I don't think it's a matter of intentionally doing so. The fact is, he has a wife and family who love him and look up to him, he has led a very successful life, and he is normally in a good mood as far as I can see -- certainly not a profile that would fit a suicidal person.

Some of the other drugs my father is taking, include Lipitor, which my wife and I think he no longer needs, and some drugs which are supposed to reduce his shaking, which don't seem to be working very well, along with some other drugs whose purposes I don't recall at this time. Both my father and 83 year old mother have lost a lot of weight in the past couple of years, something like 40 pounds each. After my mother went to her primary physician last week, who is the same as my father's, she came back with a bunch of new pills, including an anti-depressant, which I don't think she needs. Apparently, the doctor thought that she was depressed too, and so prescribed the antidepressant, even though he is not a psychiatrist. We see no signs that my mother is depressed. She always seems to be in a good mood, and physically isn't in bad condition. The main problems we see with her are that she has become forgetful about some things (but not others), and she seems to be weaker than before due to her weight loss. She is still very talkative though. She doesn't need the 24/7 health care, which comes out to something like $11-12 per hour around the clock; my father is the one who needs it. We like all of the health care workers, so they and how much they are charging us, isn't the issue. The issue is that we have a system which makes people pay their life savings for health care when they are unwell. Thus, I believe the inability to pay for health care is the most common reason for bankruptcy in the United States. (I have heard that several times, so I am pretty sure that is true without looking it up.)

Yesterday, when we arrived at my parents' house, my father opened the door, surprising us. He then asked me to help him pay some bills, since writing is difficult for him with his shakiness. When I saw their checkbook, I noticed (coincidentally?) that the sum total of my parents' Social Security checks and my father's state pension was almost exactly what they pay for their elder care. However, they also have to spend money on other things, which means that more money is going out than coming in, just due to their health care. Personally, I would be thrilled to have as much income as they do, let alone be retired and have that much money coming in. However, the health care industry is sucking up all that money and more, and the Affordable Health Care Act seems to have done nothing to alleviate this problem. In fact, if anything, the problem has gotten worse, no fault of the Affordable Health Care Act. Insurance rates have continued to increase, at least for now. While at dinner, my father handed me a letter from Blue Cross insurance. It said that my health insurance was overdue. You see, my parents had been paying it, but now that they are spending all of their income and more on health care, they cannot afford to keep paying for health care insurance for my wife and me. Isn't that ironic? As it was, the health insurance that we had, had a huge deductible of $7,500, and we have been healthy, so we basically didn't use it. I told my parents that my plan is to stay healthy until I am at least 65 years old, when I (and my wife?) can use Medi-Care. I am on the "stay well or die program" -- that's what things are coming to in America. Actually, I plan to check the government website regarding health insurance options under the Affordable Health Care Act, but I am not optimistic, since I already checked once, and couldn't find anything that applied to us.

I am fortunate and blessed to have my parents both still alive and still together. I suppose we are fortunate that they can afford -- at least for now -- their 24/7 elder care, too, but I can't help thinking that being unable to afford health care is a sign of a society in decay. In fact, there was much talk about the far less expensive health care systems in Taiwan, my wife's home country, and even in Guatemala, where health care worker Maribel is from. So, even Guatemala is whooping the United State's behind, health-care wise. Think about that for a moment. My parents seemed envious of other nations, and I am starting to think more seriously about moving to Taiwan, in the unlikely event that Romney is elected President this November. The ironic thing about my parents' huge health care costs, is that money worries are the biggest source of my father's anxiety. It is a trap, a conundrum which makes my father's condition worse, and what, if anything, might make him suicidal, ironically. I believe that there are several very serious, inter-related dilemmas which humanity, not as individuals, but as a whole, need to work out; among these are human population, global warming, maintaining a good environment for life on earth, economic fairness (which is what my "Capital Ideas" is ultimately about), and health care. Of course, getting 7 billion people and counting, to agree on something, is far more complicated than making up one's own mind about something, and as we all know, even that can be difficult.

We left my parents' house around 8:40 p.m. My father was already in bed preparing to sleep, so Eunice, I and my mother all went to say goodnight to him. My father held my hand and thanked me for helping him pay the bills, relocating their financial documents, and putting some new information about their safe deposit boxes in one location. My wife and I said "happy Mother's Day" to my mother and my wife spoke from her heart to encourage my parents to get stronger and healthier. My mom held my father's hand and told him that she loves him, and my father seemed very appreciative. We held onto that image as we left.

Later, at home, my wife wondered out loud if perhaps she should go there to live and take the place of the night shift at my parent's house. My wife used to run a mental hospital and an old folks home in Taiwan, so she is accustomed to doing that. They don't live very far away from us, so I could go to visit her and them frequently. Nonetheless, neither of us is eager to take this step. Of course, this is how many people around the world handle elder care, and we are thinking maybe it's time for us to do that. In other nations, it's probably mostly an act of love and respect for one's parents and parents-in-law. Here, in the United States, it's also a matter of replacing a financial burden, with a personal one. Stay tuned for further developments.

And R.I.P. Shelley. This is the 25th anniversary of the day my 6 year old eldest niece, Shelley, drowned in a public pool.