Thursday, May 26, 2011

How My Dad's Death Effects You

Last week I wrote a tribute to my dad, who died last Monday. I was not in the mood at the time to think about it as an economics teacher would. But, since Medicare is being kicked around as the reason that the Congressional District full of Republicans where I grew up just elected a Democrat, I am ready to revert to the rational thinker.

Here are the details of my dad's medical situation before his death. He had been diagnosed with Parkinson's about 2 years ago, had become quite withered and weak, and his once sharp mind had lost it's edge. In recent months doctors discovered serious heart problems. His options before the the extensive heart surgery from which he never recovered were this: do nothing and likely die within a year, or have massive surgery that might kill him, and live a few more years if it succeeds. Not a very good set of options.

My dad chose to have the surgery, after making sure that almost all of the cost of it would be paid by Medicare. Hey, it's free, why not! If you don't see the insanity here, then you aren't paying attention.

Sarah Palin was lying when she said that the health care law contained "death panels". My question is, should it? I have no idea what a 6 hour heard surgery done by a top surgeon, followed by 2 weeks in intensive care with added procedures cost taxpayers. My guess is that decisions like this are repeated multiple times around the country. And one has to wonder weather doctors suggest such procedures merely because they know they will be paid for with government dollars.

My dad's situation was one with a very limited upside and a huge cost, a type of investment that any sane person or business would turn down. It is just a cold, hard fact that, as my generation joins the Medicare system, there is no way we can continue to afford to make bad financial decisions like this. With 2 parents who have been on Medicare for 20 years, I have witnessed quite a few things that leave me, as a taxpaying economics teacher, shaking my head. My mom broke her shoulder when she was 78, and they just replaced it. She had a sore foot, and they ordered her a cane, not because she wanted it, but it was "free".

Medicare is, in theory, a great idea. But someone has to start making tough decisions about what is a necessary and smart expenditure, and at what point we are just throwing away money on long shots, which, I am afraid, is what happened in my dad's case. We can't live forever. We can't afford to pretend that we can, unless we want to bankrupt the productive generations of our country. Sorry folks, but sometimes it is just time to die.

And, like most of the truths I point out in this blog, nothing sane will be done about it, because to do so would be political suicide.

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