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Sunday, September 25, 2005

Good Tennessean Column on Frist

ow can this happen in a place of such wealth?

One thought turned public sympathy into outrage over the abandoning of New Orleans' most vulnerable residents during Hurricane Katrina:

How could this Third World-like tragedy be happening in the most powerful and affluent nation on the globe? And anger was further fueled by the realization that America has spent more than $200 billion and almost 2,000 lives to ensure better lives in Iraq.



Now consider the same scenario here, set against the great wealth that abounds in the health-care industry. Yet our state is denying our most vulnerable citizens help to afford medicines to prolong lives while forcing others to emergency rooms for care that will bankrupt families.

Many working poor Tennesseans are part of the 200,000 TennCare recipients being cut from the program. And several hundred thousand more Tennesseans — including those described by the governor as the sickest — have had the number of prescriptions covered by TennCare reduced to five.

How can our state government expect diabetics to play Russian Roulette with their health, choosing between insulin and assorted medicines to address heart, stroke and kidney conditions besides ulcers on their feet? Skip one, and you're headed to hospital or morgue. Meanwhile:

• Favorite son Dr. Bill Frist is being investigated by the Securities and Exchange Commission for selling his HCA stock before its value plummeted, possibly saving him millions. Yet Frist as Senate majority leader won't bother to intervene in the TennCare crisis.

• BlueCross BlueShield of Tennessee, despite skyrocketing health-care costs, has racked up more than $1 billion in profits to put into its reserves.

• Profits for Nashville-based Caremark rose 57% in the second quarter. Caremark provides drugs to health-care programs and individuals.

• Gov. Phil Bredesen made his fortune in health care, then sold his company. Owners later took it into bankruptcy. Yet with that record, he convinced enough voters he had the expertise to fix TennCare. Now we know the terrible truth. He didn't.

Ultimately, we're being fooled by these health-care profiteers. They tell us costs for drugs and treatment are too high to help working poor Tennesseans. But the same experts — as CEOs and elected officials — still find plenty of cash to make themselves millionaires and their corporations Wall Street darlings.

Like canaries in mines, Tennesseans suffering from TennCare cuts are offering a warning to the rest of us. We're going to get it, too, as more profits are squeezed out for the few at the expense of the many.

Socialized medicine in Canada is not the answer. But the CEO view that the profiteers are trying to sell us like snake oil also is wrong. The corporate view sees nothing wrong in the state hiring 120 lawyers to sit around and do crossword puzzles. They're supposed to be hearing appeals from disenrolled TennCare recipients. So that's $51,000 an attorney annually in taxpayer money for a five-letter word on 54 Down for a "Luau welcome."

Meanwhile, James Bryant of Rutledge died earlier than expected because he couldn't afford $700 for his medicines.

Bredesen imposed a five-prescription limit on people such as Bryant because he believed they were costing the state too much money. But the attorneys are not.

Though of different parties, Bredesen and Frist are part of the same ilk. We must look to new leaders. We'll find them in a special legislative session to address TennCare.

Legislators are the only people left with clout. I've counted 32 so far — 10 senators and 22 representatives — who want a special session. That includes Reps. Sherry Jones and Edith Langster, who called to add their names. I'm told there are more than the 32. There are at least enough to worry the governor. His underlings called every legislator last week about his or her position on a special session.

You must call, too. Ask your lawmakers to support a special session. The TennCare outrage must be stopped now before the cancer of profits ahead of people hits your health plan, too.



Don McNay