They come in all forms—diapers, razor blades, cell phones.   We use them, wear them out and toss them without a thought into the trash to go to some land fill somewhere we will never see.  Hauled off, out of sight.  Forgotten.

Just as we dispose of some people.  Not directly.  Just sanitarily with budget cuts.  Cut Medicaid; erase primary care from public health clinics.  We need to balance state budgets.  We have to cut somewhere, don’t we?   We don’t know these people. We only pass them on the street. They are not in our Rotaries or our schools.  They are not working.  Are they?  What are they contributing to our society?  Why would we need them?   We have to build new roads and fund some schools.  Don’t we? 

In 2003, the State of Mississippi was going to balance its budget by cutting 13,000 Medicaid nursing home beds. I actually followed the story, called the Governor’s office, and yes it was true that was what they were going to do.  The bill went back and forth between the Governor’s Office and the State legislature and was eventually defeated.   Do you have any idea of how poor and resource less you would have to be to be in a Mississippi Medicaid nursing home bed?  Half of Mississippi residents live on income below the poverty level. 

My mother had Alzheimer’s disease at the time.  She had the funds to pay for her nursing home care.  Had she not, I do not know what I would have done.  If I did not have a place to take care of her, I would have had to care for her myself in my home, which meant I could not work.   If I did not work, I would have had no income to pay for her care or a place for us to live.  You cannot leave an Alzheimer’s patient alone for 8+ hours a day.  Nursing home care for people with Alzheimer’s disease starts at $5,000+ a month.  Where are you going to get the money to pay for that when you can’t work and don’t have a trust fund or an inheritance?  States and Medicaid are the last resort.  Medicare doesn’t cover long-term care. 

Medicaid is a political football again. It is easy pickings. The folks are poor, sick or disabled.   They don’t donate to political campaigns.  I will be the first to admit there are problems and abuses with Medicaid.  But they do not rival the greed, waste fraud and abuse, for example, as the ‘pill mills’ in Florida:  http://www.npr.org/2011/03/02/134143813/the-oxy-express-floridas-drug-abuse-epidemic

Medicaid recipients don’t have the time and resources to think up plots like these.  They are too busy trying to make ends meet and/or caring for a family member—parent or child. They may overuse some services.  They are not the only ones who do so. 

But Medicaid abuses pale in comparison to ‘pill mills’ for seniors on Medicare.  Seniors, after all, are disposal as well. Aren’t we? We have lived our time.  We have Medicare and a prescription drug benefit that covers our prescriptions, so it is not like these pill mills are taking money out of our personal pockets.  Just public.  So what could be a better deal?   Seniors get addicted to pain meds and our tax dollars pay the bill. 

But, it is not just seniors.  All these drugs are permeating our society.  All medications at home are now addicting children and their babies. http://www.npr.org/2011/02/16/133805289/number-of-newborns-addicted-to-painkillers-rising?ps=rs

AARP in a recent article estimates that 4.3 million people over 50 use illicit drugs and over 2.5 million boomers in 1999 had trouble with substance abuse.  National agencies expect that abuse to bloom to 5 million boomers by 2020, all covered by Part D Prescription drug benefit.


When I was a Medicare marketing director in the late 1980’s, I met seniors who told me they were so healthy—they never had to see a doctor their entire life.  Now we are selling sickness and drugs everywhere, and drowning in ads for new knees and hips.  And we wonder why our health care costs so much. 

We need to re-think our health care.  We don’t have to make the false choices we face  today of  paying more taxes or cutting programs. It’s a false paradigm.  We need to change how we organize our health care payment and delivery system so you and I are not ATM machines.

In the meantime, we have a hero in the wings.  US District Judge James Robert took a stand against our ice floe approach to balancing the budget.  He said when faced with a conflict between financial and budgetary concerns and “preventable human suffering, the balance of hardships tips in the favor of preventing human suffering.” 


This should not be buried at the bottom of the page in the second section of The Seattle Times on a weekday.  This should be banner headlines.   

We must stop thinking about disposables.  The next disposable could be you and me–for either poverty or profit.  

Kathleen O’Connor is an author and 25+ year consumer advocate in health care. www.oconnorhealthanalyst.com; www.codebluenow.com

About Kathleen

Kathleen O’Connor: 30+ year health care consumer advocate, non-profit executive and author. For more information about Kathleen, please see "About" on the main content bar above.
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2 Responses to Disposable

  1. Mary Koch says:

    Thank you, Kathleen, for yet again voicing my own concerns and frustrations so articulately and with such depth of information and understanding. Do keep on keeping on. Mary

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