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That’s not how the cookie crumbles, Dems say

Bush’s idea of health care is half-baked, they add

By Leigh E. Rich

Short of calling the Bush administration’s response to America’s growing health care crisis half-baked, Colorado Democrats held a mock bake sale Monday in front of Villa Manor Care Center, a Lakewood-based nursing home.

But what looked like a small sidewalk effort amounted to serious allegations slung by the handful of participants, including Colorado Senate Minority Leader Joan Fitz-Gerald, at the current administration and the 2004 Bush-Cheney campaign.

“This administration has been strangely silent,” Fitz-Gerald, D-Golden, said after deeming the president’s attitude toward the rising numbers of the nation’s uninsured and the coming increases in Medicare premiums as “laissez faire.”

“Premiums have outpaced earnings … and seniors are especially hit hard,” Fitz-Gerald stated.

In a publication released this August, the U.S. Census Bureau reported that, as of 2003, nearly 45 million Americans are uninsured—3.7million of which are citizens 55 to 64 years of age and 286,000 of which are those 65 years and older.

And, according to an announcement made by President Bush the Friday of Labor Day weekend, the 39.5 million Americans currently covered by Medicare will see a 17.4 percent increase in their premiums in 2005.

This increase in monthly payments from $66.60 to $78.20 represents the largest since the federal insurance program that covers seniors, certain people with disabilities and those with end-stage renal disease was implemented in 1965.

“This administration has done very little to show leadership in a health care crisis,” Fitz-Gerald said.

“Where is his leadership?” she asked the day before President Bush visited Colorado.

Holding up a chocolate chip cookie in the midday Colorado sun, with several Kerry supporters and Villa Manor residents looking on, Fitz-Gerald declared, “The price of this cookie, were it medication in Colorado, would be $1.”

In Canada, she said, the same product would only be 27 cents.

And next year, Medicare recipients would pay $1.17.

“The cost of drugs has gone up significantly,” Fitz-Gerald said, advocating for prescription drug importation.

“There is a significant price difference to the elderly,” she said, when the costs of medications in Colorado and other countries are compared.

For 30 tablets of Prevacid, for example, Coloradans currently pay $138.45. Canadians, on the other hand, shell out only $44.27.

Fitz-Gerald emphasized that the prescription drug for chronic heartburn is an important medication for the elderly, who may experience difficulty eating or enjoying their food if they suffer from the condition. Incidentally, Prevacid’s spokesman is Colorado’s own football Hall-of-Famer John Elway, who introduced President Bush at Tuesday’s Republican rally.

According to information taken from Families USA, a nonpartisan consumer health care advocacy group, Coloradans pay on average about 200 percent more for medications than our nation’s northern neighbors.

“This means less money for rent, less money for food, less money to live on month by month,” Fitz-Gerald said.

Saying Americans, particularly seniors and those in rural areas, “need health care that is affordable and accessible,” Fitz-Gerald downplayed the safety issues some have raised regarding drug importation. Because the Food and Drug Administration has no authority or control over medications made in other countries, opponents have said that drug efficacy and safety cannot be assured.

Fitz-Gerald disagreed. “I think we’ve seen a lot of red herrings thrown up. … Many of our pharmaceuticals are made abroad.”

“What is the difference” between buying other products manufactured overseas and prescription drugs, Dorothy Zenak of Littleton asked.

Calling herself “very fortunate” and “blessed” because she has health care coverage thanks to her husband’s years as a steelworker in Chicago, Zenak, 73, attended Monday’s bake sale mainly to speak out against the Bush campaign.

“I refuse to fall in lockstep behind the Bush administration,” she said.

That also seemed to be the message of Fitz-Gerald’s remarks. The Colorado senator deemed the resistance to importation as a way to reduce prescription costs “a lack of will” on the part of her opponents.

“You can make sure every pharmaceutical that enters this country legally is a safe pharmaceutical,” Fitz-Gerald assured, adding, “I don’t see Canadians dropping in the streets.”

She also took the Bush-Cheney campaign to task for its Medicare drug discount cards and its touting of health savings accounts, which she deemed “a great idea if you’re healthy. They’re a bad idea if you’re not.”

On the other hand, she said, “John Edwards and John Kerry have sane solutions. … They will negotiate with the pharmaceutical companies to put a cap on prescription drugs.”

The Kerry-Edwards campaign also proposes to pick up 75 percent of catastrophic costs, issue tax credits to small businesses, cut administrative costs and implement a patient’s bill of rights.

The deciding factor in Americans’ health care, Fitz-Gerald added, “should not be an accountant sitting in a back room somewhere.”

When asked why the Democrats do not call for a national health insurance system, like the Cobb-LaMarche or Nader-Camejo campaigns, she said, “The Democrats are trying to be practical about the issue. … Tax credits for small businesses are doable. … These things will work and they will give relief in the short-term.”

Even donations and proceeds from Monday’s bake sale went to help the “seniors (at Villa Manor) pay for their prescription medications.”

Pharmaceuticals are not an extra, Fitz-Gerald said. “We need to keep them affordable.”

Lori Murphy, Zenak’s daughter and a volunteer who helps the elderly register to vote and apply for absentee ballots, agreed. “My father died in a nursing home. … We need to take care of our elderly, rather than take from them.”

“It’s not too much government,” Fitz-Gerald promised. “We’re looking at the life, health and safety of the American people.”

Rich, L. E. (2004, October 22). That’s not how the cookie crumbles, Dems say: Bush’s idea of health care is half-baked. The Colorado Statesman, pp. 1, 12.

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