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The Medicare morass has them trying to pull wool over our eyes.

You're old, and that makes you both vulnerable and a reliable voter. That makes you a target. You are being solicited for your vote.

You depend on entitlements and financial plans you made for your Golden Years. Which brings me to Medicare Part D. (D stands for Dumb, Dodge, Dubious and Despicable.)

You probably rely on a few medications. If you're lucky, it's only a few. It's possible that your insurance company or HMO thinks you should be grateful that they will pay part of the cost of some of them, well, if they're generics.

They also cheerfully provide a list of procedures they will (partially) pay for. You might want to prevent the possible loss of some major organ. They feel your pain. But you might be a wee bit old for a transplant.

Then comes the Bush administration explaining that they have a wonderful plan to provide medications to senior citizens. Of course we all want to avoid a sinister, leftist plot to provide universal health care. We're not communists, are we?

So what we have here is a plan, painstakingly worked out by the best lobbyists in the pharmaceutical and insurance industries. They feel your pain too. Just fill out a few simple forms. Your grandkids can help you. Sign up and the plan is yours for at least a year. It will be helpful if you know all the names of all the medications you'll need next year . . . before you're locked into "the plan." After all, they want you to have choices. Lots of choices.

(Obfuscation is good.)

The self-same administration has saved us again and again from the evil forces who think any regulations of companies, financial or pharmaceutical, are against Truth, Justice and the American Way. We won't let those pinko, bleeding-heart doomsayers crush the Can-Do Spirit that made our nation great. Never mind what P.T. Barnum said about suckers and how often they're born.

Welcome to the big tent and let me tell you about how you can trust those clever guys who know, absolutely, how to make money out of stupid risks. Ya see, it's about which shell that pesky pea is under, but they invented the system and look how rich they are! If you divide up that pea into a gazillion pieces and add loads more shells to the game, your risk of being stuck with the rotten pea parts is almost nothing.

(Obfuscation is VERY good.)

Years ago, cartoonist Al Capp invented a character named Fearless Fosdick. Fearless, who looked a lot like Dick Tracy, had a mission. He knew that there was a can of poison beans on the loose and his mission was to prevent people from eating them. He raced around the country, preventing people from eating the beans. He shot them; one clean hole through each potential bean-victim producing one large drop of blood. Ultimately, and with some trepidation, he saved his mother from the WMD beans. Too bad the beans always flew out of the hands of those he saved and onto a passing truck. Fosdick understood the American Way. Fight! Shoot! (Lucky for the Iraqis we're saving them. Oops. The beans slipped away again. They're in Afpakaghan.)

Maybe he should come and save old people from oldness. He could worry them to death about losing their health care benefits, their pensions, their houses and apartments. He could threaten them with a bureaucratic nightmare of forms and conditions. Then, when he wants to get elected, he can remind us all of how he's been busy saving us from socialism, domestic terrorists, guys with funny names and foreigners. His new best friend will save us from the odd, rogue moose and those nasty Russkies looming outside her window.

It would be un-American to adopt a plan to use our tax dollars to give us decent, affordable health care that isn't invented by the people who now profit so handsomely from its staggering cost. No. We must keep using those tax dollars for saving Iraqis and overcompensating the people and institutions that created tectonic cracks in the banking and credit system worldwide. You know, those huge cracks and sinkholes that are gobbling houses, jobs, 401ks, pensions and credit cards. Those holes look a lot like that Plan D doughnut hole, the one you fell through a couple years ago. The people who brought you all these exciting, tectonic fractures in the globe understand the P.T. Barnum principal.

(Obfuscation, anyone?)

We could keep on letting them try to get it right while they keep all their tax handouts. We're old anyway. But consider the Old Plains Indian saying regarding continued risky behavior: "That way lies chaos and rump of skunk."

I add another warning: Avoid toxic legumes.

Fosdick's out there.

Sheila Stoll can be reached in care of LifeTimes, St. Petersburg Times, P.O. Box 1121, St. Petersburg, FL 33731.