Up the co-pay, help decrease the surplus population

May 23, 2004|By DAN RODRICKS

NOTE THAT prescription drug use - from prenatal vitamins to hypertension medicine - has dropped drastically in the United States since the institution of significantly higher co-pays. That's the ticket! Neither the White House nor Congress will take on the insurance or pharmaceutical companies, and the government refuses to control prices of prescription meds. So the answer is as obvious as the liver spots on your grandma's hands: Raise the price to consumers, and wean these wimps off their medications by making them too expensive!

Why didn't we do this before? All those years of five-buck co-pays ... what were we thinking?

A new study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association says that when co-payments rise, the health of chronically ill patients can suffer; even modest increases in co-payments can lead to health setbacks, and some patients stop taking some medicines altogether.

Thanks for the study, boys and girls, but these conclusions seem only logical. And what seems even more logical is that, with high co-pays, Americans will probably not live as long as they do now. And if they don't live as long, they won't consume as much; they'll eat less and have money for medicine. Americans of modest means might slowly starve to death, but at least they'll get their blood pressure under control.

I figure it's all part of a grand plan.

Not only is it a way to increase pharmaceutical and insurance industry profits. It's a way to position the United States for a socially stable and resource-efficient future.

Note that Soylent Green, the science-fiction film starring Charlton Heston, was set in the year 2022. That means we're only 18 years from the film's prophecy - too many people, not enough food, people eating Soylent biscuits, Heston running through streets screaming, "Soylent Green is people! It's people!" - so the higher co-pays might be designed to decrease the surplus population and avoid that kind of nightmare.

Sometimes ours seems like a genuinely dysfunctional society with priorities turned upside down. But this co-pay increase thing gives hope; obviously somebody's thinking of the future.

What? No plaguecam?

Baltimore television stations had tremendous opportunity for a natural ratings boost in the May sweeps but completely blew the cicada plague story. They could have hyped it the way they hype snowstorm coverage - with brassy Wagnerian music (something real Gotterdammerung, baby!), arresting video montages of red-eyed insects and screaming children, hour after hour of reports from infested neighborhoods, interviews with biblical scholars and bug experts - but it didn't happen.

In my part of town, the plague peaked Friday, but there wasn't a single live crew to be found - no TV van, no microwave stack towering over rooftops, no helicopter. I didn't once see a breathless reporter at Safeway interviewing anxious customers stalking up on toilet paper, milk, bread and bug repellent. Where was Rob? Where was Kai? Where was the vigorous mayor in orange jumpsuit, super-powered vacuum cleaner on his back, sucking up cicadas? Where was Baltimore County Executive Jim Smith to tell everyone to remain calm and eat their home supplies? Where was Dr. Peter Beilenson to tell senior citizens to stay indoors and drink plenty of liquids?

The cicada story was a gift from God in May sweeps. But local television failed to do what it does best - hype a story about a natural phenomenon and exploit the fears of viewers out of proportion to the threat.

What a bunch of amateurs.

Let them eat bugs

Meanwhile, I think we should all gather up cicadas and freeze them. This is a potential food source - and, for people who need prescribed medication, a few meals of fricasseed bugs can mean enough arthritis pills to get through the month. Soylent Green is cicadas! It's cicadas!

New York state of mind

Note to the dry-docked police commissioner of Baltimore: It's OK to call Baltimore "home" now. Really. You're a big man with a big job to do - assuming the current flap passes - and it would be nice to see you dig in for a while and actually invest yourself emotionally in this city.

What's with these New York people?

We seemed to be entranced by them. We hire them from jobs in the Big Apple - if they can make it there, they can make it anywhere, right? - and they come to Baltimore and, with few exceptions, either crash and burn or move on quickly to another arena for career advancement and quick cash.

The city school board hired Carmen Russo as schools czarina - over Bonnie Copeland, the Baltimore director of the Fund for Educational Excellence (and Russo's eventual successor) - because of what the chairman of the search committee called Russo's "demonstrated experience in school reform in New York."

Russo never moved here emotionally, making frequent trips to Florida on weekends and eventually bugging out when it looked like her school reforms led to a fiscal meltdown.

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