Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Public Altruism about Health Care is Alive and Well

Four days ago I discussed Medicare beneficiaries who think about Medicare in terms of future generations and the common good, not just in terms of their own care. That post was triggered by my reaction to hearing this aphorism:
The true meaning of life is to plant trees under whose shade you do not expect to sit.
This morning's Boston Globe included an obituary that made the same point. It told about Paul White, who died at 61 of kidney cancer, after eight years of illness. Here's the relevant passage:
In a life curtailed by cancer there was much to curse, but Mr. White was more apt to speak optimistically about how chemotherapy gave him more time with his five granddaughters and how experimental treatments would provide a foundation for patients he would never meet.

"He just felt he was doing his part," his daughter said. "He kept talking about, 'I'm doing this for the next generation.' I can hear him saying that: 'I'm the guinea pig for the next generation.'"
I've been looking to see if any surveys of Medicare beneficiaries suggest what proportion is moved by concerns about the commons. I haven't yet found what I'm looking for, but I'd predict that it's a substantial number.

The Globe also included this letter to the editor:
Five ways to cut spending on Medicare - from a beneficiary

WHEN SPENDING less on Medicare is suggested, it seems that many people, especially Democrats and those over 65, protest loudly. However, there are ways that Medicare could spend significantly less money without denying anyone medical care that is of value. As a Medicare beneficiary myself, I offer five concrete proposals.

1) Make generic drugs the default for covered prescriptions.

2) Let Medicare negotiate with drug companies on the cost of drugs.

3) Let the Medicare Independent Payment Advisory Board identify medical services that provide little or no benefit, and let Medicare refuse to pay for them, or require significant copayments.

4) For surgery or other major interventions for which there are medically reasonable alternatives, do not pay for those interventions unless patients are fully informed about their alternatives, including no intervention at all.

5) Give providers significant protection from malpractice claims if they can document that patients were well informed before a treatment decision was made.

Congress has made if difficult or impossible for Medicare leadership to take any of these reasonable steps to control Medicare costs. Enacting these reforms could significantly cut Medicare costs with no downside for patients or their doctors.

Jack Fowler


The writer is senior scientific adviser for the Foundation for Informed Medical Decision Making. His views here are his own.
Voices like Paul White and Jack Fowler can make an important contribution to our national political dialogue. There's no way to deal with the country's long-term economic health without dealing with Medicare. If enough Americans speak as Paul White and Jack Fowler did it will become harder to argue for the politics of selfishness that our anti-tax zealots are so eager to promote.

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