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Home > Opinion-Editorials: 2003
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A Plea to Grandparents: Just Say No to Prescription Drug Subsidies

By Scott Holleran
October 28, 2003

Today's seniors are at the center of the most profound health care legislation since the Clinton health care plan: expansion of Medicare to grant prescription drug subsidies to people over 65.

One might ask why, with the nation at war following the worst attack in U.S. history and a struggling economy, the GOP-controlled Congress and president would seek subsidies for one of the wealthiest generations of older people in human history.

It all began with the 2000 presidential campaign and a woman named Winifred Skinner. Then-Vice President Al Gore insisted that seniors were being forced to choose between food and medicine and he proposed a sweeping government subsidy for their drug coverage. Then-Gov. George W. Bush basically said, "me, too," and pitched his own prescription drug subsidy aimed at the poorest seniors.

The catalyst to expand Medicare to pay for drug costs was a 79-year-old retired widow from Des Moines, Iowa, named Winifred Skinner. Mrs. Skinner confronted Gore during a campaign stop and proclaimed that she spent most of her days collecting cans to cover both her living expenses and her prescription costs of $230 a month.

Gore was apparently so moved by her tale of woe that he invited her to attend the first presidential debate in Boston, where he told her story and declared that he would fight for universal prescription drug coverage. But when reporters began asking questions about Mrs. Skinner, the widow's tale grew mighty tall.

It turns out that Mrs. Skinner, who had been planning a trip to Florida, was shuttled to Boston in a Winnebago with her poodle, Bridget, which she affectionately dubbed "the only family I've got." Along the way, a question emerged: precisely how does a struggling senior afford a poodle, a motor home and trips to Florida and Boston?

Gore's campaign finally admitted that they had paid for her travel—and it was revealed that a previously unmentioned wealthy son, who lived on an 80-acre ranch, had repeatedly offered to support his mother. Skinner had plenty of family—she's a great-grandmother—but she had steadfastly refused her son's generosity, declaring: "I'm no moocher".

Apparently, Mrs. Skinner, who owned her home, had no problem with redistributing other people's money to pay for her prescription drugs—which is exactly why Winifred Skinner ended up being the perfect poster senior for the prescription drug debate, though not for the reason she intended.

As Mrs. Skinner's story shows, America's seniors are reaping the reward of superior pharmaceuticals, living longer and enjoying the most active geriatric lives ever known. She had the choice to accept her son's help—and she refused it. She had the choice to travel to Boston on someone else's dime—and she accepted it. And she had the choice to pay the mortgage, vacation in Florida, and pay her poodle's expenses—or cut her expenses to pay for her prescription drugs.

In fact, choice is the cure for America's rising drug costs. Being responsible for one's own health care is still a choice. Increased free choice of doctors and hospitals, not increased government intervention, is the proper tool for bringing down health care expenditures.

With Me-Too Republicans ready to stick Americans with a $ 400 billion subsidy—and take away many retired Americans' current drug coverage (millions will lose it, according to an estimate by the Congressional Budget Office, when companies are forced to drop their retired employees' drug coverage)—the claim that Medicare expansion will save seniors from rising prescription drug costs is, like Mrs. Skinner collecting cans to pay for drugs, false.

he President and GOP Congress are on the verge of the largest government intervention in the economy in nearly 40 years—a leap toward socialized medicine that will seriously restrict choice in medicine for everyone—and seniors, who are emphatically not being forced to choose between their medications and their meals, are the only ones with the power to stop it. For the sake of their chosen heirs, if not for themselves, America's grandparents ought to act with the honor that is the emblem of their generation and just say no to drug subsidies for seniors.

Scott Holleran is a freelance writer in California.


Copyright © 2003 Americans for Free Choice in Medicine. All rights reserved.
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