On Killing The Elderly

DrRich | April 11th, 2011 - 10:09 am

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For some time now, numerous loved ones and dear friends have been advising and occasionally urging DrRich that, perhaps, it has become a bit inappropriate, and even unseemly, for him to continue in his longtime position as President and sole member of Future Old Farts of America (FOFA). For a not unsubstantial interval DrRich ignored this advice, feigning incipient deafness. But finally, after some focused study of that which these days returns his gaze in the mirror, and reluctantly concluding that maybe his loved ones have a point (and not wishing to seem Cranky), DrRich has reluctantly decided to resign from (and therefore disband) FOFA.

DrRich is pleased to announce that he has accepted a new position as President and sole member of Glorious Old Farts of America (GOFA).

And it is in this new capacity that DrRich has become alarmed at some of the dire warnings now being sounded by respected leaders of the Democratic Party, to the effect that the Republicans’ proposed federal budget for fiscal year 2012, released last week by Congressman Paul Ryan (who serves, DrRich believes, as Deputy Whippersnapper of the House Republican caucus), proves that Republicans are trying to kill old people.

Article 3, Subsection 4(D) of the GOFA charter clearly states: “All things being equal, we would prefer that Old Farts not be killed.”

Therefore, as President of GOFA, DrRich feels obligated to make some sort of public response to the Ryan budget, and to our ever-vigilant Democrat friends’ assertion that it is aimed at producing lethal harm to old people. DrRich’s important position in GOFA, of course, means that his opinion on this matter ought to carry serious weight in any high level discussions about this proposed budget.

By carefully studying the thoughtful commentary being offered by GOFA’s Democrat friends, DrRich has ascertained that Ryan’s proposed budget apparently will kill old people by “ending Medicare as we know it.”  DrRich does not find this a compelling argument, since Medicare as we know it is already being ended, by Obamacare, which is now the law of the land. Strangely, Democrat leaders are not claiming that Obamacare also kills old people.

So, as is all too often the case, the logic being offered up for public consumption by our political leaders does not hold up to simple analysis, which places DrRich into the position of having himself to provide the logical analysis of the question at hand.

DrRich, to be clear, frames that question thusly: Which plan for Medicare most threatens to kill old people? And he finds abroad in the land three distinct plans for Medicare: Medicare “as we know it,” Medicare under Obamacare, and Medicare under the Ryan budget. Let us analyze dispassionately how each proposes to kill the elderly.

Medicare As We Know It. Medicare as it is being operated today is generally popular with GOFA’s constituency, and most old people would like to continue things just as they are. And if you are one of those elderly Americans who is above, say, 75 years of age, chances are you would do just fine under Medicare as we know it. That is, odds are that you would live out your allotted years, and finally die from your heart disease or cancer only after enjoying every modern contrivance our healthcare system has devised.

However, if you are substantially younger than that, there is a real chance that your demise will be related to more systematic causes. This is because Medicare, if it were to continue just as it is today, would drive the U.S. into insolvency within a couple of decades, leading to cultural collapse, societal upheaval, &c. Our modern healthcare system (any modern healthcare system), being totally dependent upon a robust, complex, reasonably stable and technologically advanced society, would cease to exist. All of today’s life-prolonging therapies would either become very scarce, or would disappear altogether. And unless there arises out of the ashes a new culture which is centered upon ancestor worship, odds are that what little healthcare is available would not be disproportionally offered to the very old.

As DrRich sees it, continuing Medicare as we know it would ultimately result in most of our elderly dying much earlier than they do today.

Medicare Under Obamacare. Obamacare promises to prevent a Medicare-induced societal collapse by centralizing virtually all healthcare decisions, thus controlling expenditures. Government-appointed “experts” will decide which medical services ought to be offered to which patients, and will publish those decisions as “guidelines” (a euphemism for “directives”), which will be followed to the letter by doctors who wish to continue their careers and stay out of jail.

DrRich has argued herein that such a system will do great harm to many individuals in all age groups, and will effectively end the Great American Experiment. (Unlike some, DrRich would consider this latter result to be a bad thing.) But our question at the moment is more focused: Will old people be killed disproportionally under Obamacare?

DrRich thinks the answer is yes. First, “guidelines” have the most merit when they are applied to patients whose only (or main) disease is the one to which the guideline applies. For patients with multiple serious ailments, or who are beginning to suffer from various motor and sensory disabilities related to aging, the response to (or ability to follow) standardized treatment directives may be far less than supposed. The reduced ability of doctors to tailor therapy to individual needs (without incurring the undifferentiated wrath of the Central Authority) may thus prove particularly harmful to the elderly.

Second, our leadership class has already anticipated that merely centralizing all healthcare decisions will be insufficient to avert a fiscal disaster, and that more stringent controls will have to be employed. While they do not like to discuss such contingencies publicly, when they do, they make it clear that the elderly will have a reduced priority for healthcare services. That is, there will be age-based rationing.

Third, it is plain that Obamacare will attempt to make it illegal for elderly Americans (or any Americans) to go outside the system to purchase their own healthcare. Old farts will get what the Central Authority says they will get, and nothing more.

DrRich believes Obamacare would end up being pretty tough on the elderly, and that many old people will die earlier than they would die today.

Medicare Under The Ryan Plan. The Ryan plan offers to allow anyone who is 55 or older to remain on Medicare as we know it today. For those currently younger than 55, when they reach the age of Medicare they will be given a suite of health insurance plans to choose from, and will be given a certain amount of money by the government to use to support their premiums. This system is quite similar to that currently offered to many federal employees.

The amount of premium support will be based on the wealth of the individual. The poor and the sick, Ryan insists, will get full premium support, and indeed will end up with “better” health insurance than they would get today under Medicare. Wealthier individuals will have to pay a much higher proportion of their own insurance premiums.

The Ryan plan in its current form is little more than an outline, and DrRich would need to see details before feeling warm and fuzzy about it. But fundamentally it takes medical decisions away from a Central Authority and places those decisions back into the hands of patients. Further, it not only allows but insists that people (who can afford it) spend at least some of their own money on their own healthcare. Also, patients under the Ryan plan will be legally permitted – even encouraged – to purchase any additional healthcare they want, any time they choose. This plan restores individual autonomy (and its twin, individual responsibility) to American healthcare.

Undoubtedly, the insurance companies under the Ryan plan would be no less evil than they are today, and would do harm to patients every chance they get. But (as DrRich has amply demonstrated) so will the Feds, and it is far easier and far less dangerous for doctors and patients to fight insurance companies than the Central Authority.*

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*DrRich hastens to remind his readers that health insurance companies will want no part of a plan such as Ryan’s. Ryan’s plan would require these companies to continue operating under their current, broken business model. After fighting so hard for Obamacare (which converts insurance companies essentially to public utilities), the insurance industry will not give up its victory without a fight – especially if doctors keep insisting on publishing articles showing that old farts can do just fine after receiving intensive medical care. DrRich thinks the health insurance industry will watch the progress of the Republicans’ budget proposal carefully, and if they perceive it has any chance of success, will do whatever they need to do to stifle it.
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Would elderly people die earlier under the Ryan plan? Those who are deemed wealthy enough to contribute to their own health insurance premiums, and who as a result choose to become under-insured, may certainly die earlier. DrRich supposes this is what the Democrats mean by “killing old people,” since he can find no other rationale to support such a statement.

The Bottom Line. Ultimately, the worst thing that could happen to us old farts would be for the current Medicare system to continue as it is, without any meaningful fiscal reforms. The two other plans for Medicare both promise to control government expenditures on healthcare, and thus promise to avoid the societal collapse (and mass elderly casualties) that likely would be produced by doing nothing.

Obamacare accomplishes this by placing healthcare decisions into the hands of government-chosen “experts” who will determine the management of individuals from a great distance, and by giving the elderly a lower priority in unavoidable rationing schemes.

In contrast, the Ryan plan proposes to avert catastrophe by placing elderly individuals in the position of having to choose (and in many cases partially pay for) their own health insurance product, and then live with those choices.

Speaking on behalf of the entire GOFA organization, DrRich would rather his fellow old farts die as a result of their own personal choices in a plan like Ryan’s, than die as the first victims of the societal upheaval, or through the tyranny, promised by the other two options.

DrRich trusts that his position as President of such an august organization will render his opinion in this matter dispositive.

4 Responses to “On Killing The Elderly”

  1. Tom says:

    Hi DrRich,
    I am watching Charlie Rose on PBS, and there is an individual named Jack Lew being interviewed. He is apparently the director of the OMB; clearly I don’t pay enough attention to who is running what bureaucracy. He seems mild-mannered enough, but the following statement caught my ear, in which he is discussing some aspect of the Affordable Care Act (not clear which one from the interview):

    “If the doctor knew it was a procedure that tended not to be very effective, where the risk of a secondary infection was very high, and, therefore, the reimbursement rate was lower because of that, maybe the doctor would actually be making judgments based on what is the best practice.”

    Am I paranoid, or does this sound exactly like what you are talking about in many of your postings here?

    • DrRich says:

      Tom,

      Not sure of the context here, but if Mr. Lew was talking about the advantages to the “system” of refusing to pay for “never events,” that is, of causing doctors to withhold elective procedures from patients who are at a higher risk for “never event” complications, then yes, this is one of the things I have discussed.

      Rich

      • Tom says:

        Perhaps I am seeing an implication in the statement that is not there. I get the impression that the reimbursement rates will be made lower for supposed “high risk procedures” – I assume that high risk patients would be much more likely to have high risk procedures performed on them, generally. The implication I see is that doctors will be further discouraged from attempting to treat high risk patients with what very well may be the most appropriate treatment, since the risk incurred by the doctor will not be worth the reimbursement. I don’t know if any aspects of the ACA touch on “never events”, or if perhaps there are additions to the Hospital Acquired Conditions list, which reduce reimbursement for inpatients. In any case, it certainly sounds like what Mr. Lew is saying is that the doctor should be, first and foremost, thinking about his reimbursement, and not the patient he is supposed to be treating – or am I mistaken?

  2. GingerR says:

    Nice post. Answered my question as to how the insurance industry might view Ryan’s proposal. I guess Ryan forgot to read your blog about what the story under the covers really is.

    Thanks Dr.R!

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