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
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
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
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
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 traveland 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
familyshe's a great-grandmotherbut 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 drugswhich 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 helpand she refused it. She had the
choice to travel to Boston on someone else's dimeand she
accepted it. And she had the choice to pay the mortgage, vacation in
Florida, and pay her poodle's expensesor 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 subsidyand 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
yearsa leap toward socialized medicine that will seriously
restrict choice in medicine for everyoneand 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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