Wednesday, December 28, 2005

US Rx



Last night I helped sign my Italian grandma up for the Medicare prescription drug plan. It wasn't super hard, but hard enough that I doubt many people could do it for themselves who qualify for it. (And 21 million people qualify for it.) I entered her Medicare information, and the actual drugs and dosages she takes, and their system spit out a list of local providers and estimated annual costs for each, based on the drugs she takes. I was actually pretty impressed the system worked so well. She was paying about $3K annually for her meds (mostly for high blood pressure, which runs in our family) and with the new Medicare plan her estimated annual cost is $800. So, pretty damn significant. Especially significant since, as far as I can tell, my grandma's ONLY expenses are these drugs and her twice monthly hair appointment.

So, as a result of this process, I have two thoughts. The first thought is... this country is so screwed. Things are bad enough with the giant Social Security Ponzi scheme growing closer to collapse as the baby-boomers enter retirement, and the national deficit grows out of control. Any sane president would be worried about how to reign in this approaching disaster. But, no, lets now offer to pay for their meds. Brilliant! Even presuming most people take fewer drugs than my grandma, say half, and the government gets a discount, that's still around twenty billion dollars a year to fund this, at least. And this is only going to grow as the senior population increases and learns their drug costs are now subsidized. Only Bush could have done this. This drug plan was how he bought the election, at our expense, of course.

The second thought is more entrepreneurial. The window to sign up for this drug plan is only a couple of months. And the process is pretty quick, but not easy enough for most seniors. Anybody who's on the ball could make a killing by offering to sign seniors up for this program and taking a reasonable percentage of their annual cost savings. You could either rent a shop-front for a couple months, or go to people's homes with a wirelessly networked laptop. Advertise in the local papers and hire as many temps as you need to handle the oncoming stampede of grey hairs pushing walkers and waving money at you. You want to become a millionaire in two months? Now's your chance.

These two thoughts bring up a classic ethical dilemma. If you're trapped in an unethical system, is it ethical to play it to your advantage? Maybe. This is when Atlas shrugs. But the other choice is to make your million and move to New Zealand.

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gar@lisi.com