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They Say Obama Lies and Grandma Dies

New America Media, Commentary, Jasmyne A. Cannick Posted: Aug 29, 2009

Editor's Note: The recent ruckus surrounding the so-called death panels is much ado about nothing because the elderly make end-of-life decisions based on what they can or can't afford, writes NAM contributor Jasmyne A. Cannick.

Picture it. Los Angeles. 2009. Youre talking to your 87-year-old widowed diabetic grandmother on the phone. She has just told you that she hasnt been feeling too well lately.

Being the 31-year-old Generation Xer that you are, without thinking twice about it, you respond by telling her to just go see her doctor.

What you dont expect to get in response is your grandmother saying no, because the co-payment is $100 for an MRI, and she doesnt have the money to spend on that right now.

Now, mind you, this isnt a decision that was made by one of those so-called death panels, where doctors are reimbursed for voluntary counseling sessions about end-of-life decisions.

No, this decision the patient herself made simply based on the calculation of what she has left after paying her household expenses out of her monthly Social Security check; a decision that is made more often than not by seniors every day when it comes to their health care.

So I think that all of the recent ruckus about these so-called death panels was much ado over nothing, as these decisions are often already made by the patients themselves, simply based on whether or not they can afford their co-pays and medication costs.

I often wonder how many seniors sit in silence and pain, refusing to go see a doctor simply because they cant afford it. Im sure the number is probably comparable to the millions of uninsured, whose only contact with a doctor in any given year is in the emergency room.

While preventative health care has been proven effective at keeping health care costs down, even the insured find it difficult to take advantage of it simply because of the high costs associated with seeing a doctor for 2.5 minutes, this after the 45-minute waiting room visit.

For me, any talk of health care reform has to take into serious account the skyrocketing costs of co-pays and prescriptions. We cant play up the benefits of preventative health care but then charge the patient an arm and a leg, no pun intended.

Thats like the hypocrisy of pro-life conservatives who dont want to support measures to help take care of that life once its here. This includes welfare, public housing, and universal health insuranceall of which are essential for any kind of quality life.

Three years ago, my grandmother went to the doctor after losing an insane amount of weight. She didnt come home until several weeks later because when she went to see her doctor, he sent her over to the local hospital for some urgent tests. Those tests showed that my grandmother had colon cancer and had to be admitted into the hospital right away for emergency surgery. It was a frightening time for my entire family, as she is our matriarch.

And even though my grandmother has made a miraculous recovery for her age, to this day I am still not sure what it was that made my grandmother finally go to the doctor. But I am glad that she did. I know that my grandmother had every opportunity to go to the doctor before that, but knowing my grandmother, she was probably deterred by the costs of all of the tests and likely prescriptions she would have been given. In the end, though, the cost of a doctors visit was nothing compared to her part of her hospital bill -- a bill that I believe has curbed her doctors visits in recent years. I believe that is the reason why shed rather suffer in silence than shell out $100 for an MRI.

So when protestors against Obamas health care plan say, Obama lies and Grandma dies, Ive got news for themGrandma dies anyway because co-pays and prescriptions are too high.

Jasmyne Cannick, 31, is a critic and commentator based in Los Angeles. A regular contributor to NPR, she was chosen as one of Essence Magazines 25 Women Shaping the World. She can be reached at www.jasmynecannick.com.

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