On March 14, 2019, I died. Retirement was synonymous with death! At the age of 13, I decided to become a physician and I fulfilled that promise. In my world, the patient came first. I took the Hippocratic Oath seriously, advocating for my patients and treating them literally around the clock.
Once, a respected colleague of mine described me as a “bull in a China shop” as I plowed through any barrier to get my patient the care he/she needed. I negotiated with the hospital, insurance companies, and pharmacies to provide my patients with whatever they needed. I enlisted an army of healthcare providers who worked along with me.
In the early days, Good Shepherd Hospital stood at my side. The CFO wrote off entire bills when necessary. The medical staff established “The Sunshine Fund” (TSF) from which physicians could withdraw money to help hospitalized patients. TSF actually covered the expense of a babysitter so that a father could visit his wife in the hospital.
Wauconda Pharmacy and Osco Lake Zurich could be counted on to cut the price of essential medications when necessary. PHARMA provided samples when patients could not pay for their meds. I had a homeless and jobless patient on medication for a seizure disorder. I spoke with the CEO of the company who made the medication he needed, and a year’s worth showed up a few days later.
My specialist referrals always responded to my call for help, often waiving their fees. The local CT and MRI centers also offered reduced pricing to those in need. Local religious organizations helped finding counseling and durable medical supplies.
Then things changed. Hospitals merged into “healthcare systems” that concentrated more on the system than on healthcare. For the most part, charity vanished. I will forever be indebted for Mr. T who, till the day he retired, would go out of his way to help my patients cover their bills.
The owner of Wauconda Pharmacy stood by my patients for my entire career. He helped countless patients find the means to obtain their medications as did the pharmacists at Osco. I often provided patients in need with full courses of samples and my pharma reps quietly worked with me. Unfortunately, their employer, “Big Pharma, had an appetite for money and would feast on the elderly and sick.
I sat on national advisory boards for Glaxo, Astrazeneca, Pfizer, and others and worked hard to convince PHARMA that it needed to scrap the expensive and obnoxious TV advertisements, as well as getting rid of the discount programs (not open to Medicare patients) and simply cut the cost of their medications. I failed.
I fought for my patients until the end. Then I retired. I didn’t really die, but I might as well have died. The state of my once proud profession has deteriorated beyond belief.
Today, I found my new purpose in life. Not surprisingly, my purpose in life is to become a patient advocate, only now I’m coming at it as both a doctor and patient. I just got off the phone with the pharmacist at Humana. He verified that the medication I needed was in fact going to cost $1500 a month. He suggested that I try the Humana covered alternative at a cost of $1000 a month. He also verified that a third of the patients on the alternative will have severe nausea and vomit. The medication is used when the patient cannot ambulate. I think it works by making you run to the bathroom so you can puke in the toilet instead of on the family room carpet!
Congress and the President have promised to do something about the cost of medications and healthcare in general. They have done nothing to remedy the situation while enjoying PHARMA’s campaign contributions.
To accomplish anything, I need an army. That’s where you come in! I need you to write! I need you to write to your congressional leaders. I need you to write to the President. I need you to write to PHARMA, your local pharmacy, hospital and doctors.
I know what you’re thinking. Isn’t that what AARP is supposed top do? As far as I’m concerned, AARP is an insurance company. AARP is an advertising agency! AARP is . . .
Help me help you. This old bull is ready to break some glass and make medications affordable and available to the masses.