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The Health Cost Crisis? Who Cares?!

By Dave R.

February 8, 2012

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There's no denying it; the post-war baby boomers are getting old but there's one thing baby boomers have always loved and that is getting on a soapbox and having a good old moan (that's as near as you'll get to an apology in advance, from this particular grumpy old man!).

However, aging has meant different things to different tribes within that group.

While many were having fun and philosophizing in a cloud of idealism and pot, those who tried hard but never really enjoyed the '60s and '70s, donned their grey suits and began running corporate America and the rest of the world. They became the Gordon Gekkos on the Wall Streets of the capitalist world, and they're not planning to give up their wealth without a fight! The mind-expanders and sexually liberated became the gadget-obsessed, materialistic, ex-love children of the '60s, who are now so burned out they can't be bothered to protest any more (with apologies to Richard Branson and a few others, who are arguably the acceptable face of capitalism).

That's my theory anyway but monstrous generalizations or not, look out Lady Gaga, your Generation X and Y Little Monsters, will one day emerge from their darkened bedrooms to run the world. I for one am glad I probably won't be around when they use nano-technology to take out their frustrations on society.

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What goes around comes around though and our obsession with buying stuff and running up debt both as individuals and as nations has caused a worldwide crisis. In these times of world-wide cut-backs and budget-trimming, the western world's finance ministers and the governments they work for have had to find new bogey men to frighten the man in the street with and divert attention away from their own failings. Their spin doctors and young, upwardly-mobile advisers were instructed to look around for anything to take the rap (as long as big business and bankers were off the hook), and it wasn't long before they came up with suitable fall guys.

"Hey, minister, we've found two easy targets and best of all; they can't fight back! How about ... the elderly and the chronically ill? First we have to give them media-catchy labels. What about the "aging population," or the "grey generation" which is living much longer? "Grey" is a good word ... better than "silver" or "golden," that's too attractive. "Grey" is depressing ... it's perfect.

The sick are easy; we just hint at "parasites" and let people's imagination do its work. Individual sickness groups can be targeted one by one and we can spin how they are using up valuable resources and eating away at everybody's pension plans.

Now, about our bonuses ..."

The result is that we're all apparently living longer and it's officially not good!

If you're a baby-boomer, you'll remember one of the two things we grudgingly admired about the Japanese and other Asian cultures in the post-war years and the '60s and '70s: their capacity for hard work and their reverence and respect for their elderly and sick. It was something to be aspired to. We all bought into the utopian aim of most free-thinking political thinkers: to create a state where people could retire after a lifetime's work; live off a pension they'd already paid for over the years and enjoy the benefit of thriving health systems and expanded leisure time. The state would take care of the needs of the elderly because everybody would be so prosperous. However, just like peace and love, that particular dream was a mirage and the greed that is the basis of human nature took over and led us to the crisis we face today.

We're constantly bombarded with statements that the costs of health and social care are spiraling out of control because of course, we're all living too long. Wasn't that the idea for goodness sake? That disease could be controlled; people could be healed, we could retire sooner and we could live longer because science was saving us? Apparently not; it's just too expensive to be supported by a health industry which plays football with the Hippocratic Oath.

I would argue that in one aspect, they're right. Despite the fact that over-worked nurses, doctors and other health workers deserve every cent they earn, the retail costs of medicine and treatment are too high, obscenely high; but we as patients or potential patients have absolutely no control over the process. What I want to know is, why?

These spiraling costs are not determined by the people directly affected (the patients and the health and social workers), although the spin suggests that we contribute to an overstretched social support system by living unhealthy lives. Obesity, alcoholism, smoking, lack of exercise; you know the list by heart and shame on the politicians who suggest that HIV is largely self-inflicted but you can see where it's going can't you? How long before individual groups are media-targeted and subjected to scrutiny of lifestyles and the costs they engender? You shiver at the thought!

More Information: "What Does HIV/AIDS Cost? The Answer to This Question Depends a Lot on Whom You Ask."

Of course nobody would deny that many of us could live more healthy lives by giving up a few cherished vices. The problem is that certain business enterprises invest and earn billions by promoting their high-fat, high-sugar, high-salt, high-nicotine and cheap alcohol products and they're not interested in us living longer. Furthermore, if everybody followed Dr Oz and Oprah (amongst many others), along the path to healthy righteousness, the population numbers would rise accordingly, live much longer and if you believe the publicity, apparently bring the financial world crashing down on our heads because the system can't support them.

We can change behaviors which disadvantage our health and therefore do have a certain influence in reducing our own individual health costs but financially we're talking peanuts compared to the costs of medicines and medical services.

Haven't you ever asked why HIV medications remain as expensive as they ever were? Sorry maybe I'm missing something obvious but I can't understand why every HIV drug becomes more expensive with inflation every year.

More Information: "HIV Medications: How Much Do They Cost?"

The research has been done; the manufacturing processes have been adapted and are in place and the pills are produced in their millions; so why doesn't the price come down? Of course we're told that research and development costs are astronomical and by questioning, are accused of inhibiting potential progress leading of course to an eventual cure. A guilt trip then! However, the numbers of scientists researching AIDS medication must surely remain fairly constant and can only be measured in the several thousands across the world? Their salaries will go up with inflation and undoubtedly be thoroughly deserved. Similarly, all the bio-labs and research facilities are already in place and apart from new machinery, equipment and maintenance, the costs there aren't going to rise much more in the future.

My feeling is that the inflated costs of medication are much more to do with profits for the drug companies than benefits to the patients. After all, if they're forced to provide cheaper drugs to Africa, or Indian or Chinese companies undercut them and eat into their markets, they reason that they have to claw the profit margins back from somewhere!

The same applies to the huge industrial conglomerates that provide equipment for hospitals and doctors to work with. Would we even know if their prices were unrealistically high? Who determines how much a particular medicine costs, or an ambulance trip, or an operation, or a consultation? What are the criteria for their price systems? Is it just market forces and competition? In which case, isn't there a moral obligation to keep your prices as low as possible when it concerns people's lives, or is that just unrealistic sentimentality?

Just this week, I looked up the prices of the drugs I use to keep my body going and was shocked. My HIV medication alone comes to $2,500 a month!

Add on to that the drugs for neuropathy and other health problems, and you're looking at a bucket load of money. Multiply that by 12 to get an annual amount and then multiply that by the number of patients in a similar situation and we're talking Monopoly money!

More Information: "The Cost of Neuropathic Pain."

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More on Paying for HIV/AIDS Medications
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Dave R.

Dave R.

English but living since 1986 in Amsterdam, the Netherlands. HIV+ since 2004 and a neuropathy patient since 2007. I've seen quite a bit, done quite a bit and bought quite a few t-shirts if you know what I mean; but all that baggage makes me what I am today: a better person I believe, despite it all.

Arriving on TheBody.com, originally, was the end result of getting neuropathy as a side effect of the medication, or the virus, or both. I found it such a vague disease and discovered very little information that wasn't commercially tinged, or scientifically impenetrable, so I decided to create a daily Blog and a website where practical information, hints, tips and experiences for patients could be gathered together in one place.

However, I was also given the chance to write about other aspects of living with HIV and have now contributed more articles about those than about neuropathy. That said, neuropathy remains my 'core subject' although one which unfortunately dominates both my life and that of many other HIV-positive people.

I'm not a doctor or qualified medical expert, just someone with neuropathy and HIV who has spent the last few years researching the illness and trying to create information sources for people who want to know more.

I also have my own personal website and write for PositiveLite.com.


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