200 Pages of Medical Mush Monthly

I tend an elderly man, he takes 10 different pills. Each month I go get all the prescriptions at the local pharmacy. Each month I have to throw out endless pages of mush. For coming with every prescription every month is 4 to 7 pages of densely packed text printed on one side of the sheet of paper. That’s some 60 pages a month that goes from the forest to the paper mill to the printer to the druggist to the patient to the recycling to wherever it goes after that – and not a word is read! Not a single word is relevant; for the doctors who prescribed these pills have amply explained the things and carefully monitor how they work and in the consultation between the four doctors he uses he has his little candy dish of pills and all is well.

Then, his insurance company, the “Office of Group Benefits” sends a letter to him telling him that his insurance picks up some portion of the cost of the pills. Every month, following every prescription pick comes a letter to him, sometimes with two sheets of paper, telling him the breakdown in costs and who pays what. And it goes from the forest to the mill to the printer to the house to the landfill or someplace. And it’s not even looked at. That’s 10 envelopes and 10 to 15 sheets of paper, every month, for no reason except to tell the man what he already knows – he has insurance and it covers the costs of the pills.

Then, because the insurance doesn’t cover the entire cost his Medicare kicks in – something called the CMS – the “Center for Medicare Services” I believe, and they too send 10 envelopes with 2 sheets of paper per pill every month. So that’s 20 sheets of paper a month that goes from the forest to the … you get the picture.

Then, because this other company is the Medicare contractor, they too send an envelope with paper telling him what he already knows – he gets the pills by insurance and he has some co-pays, which after some deductible disappears. So there’s another 10 envelopes and 20 pages – for it’s always two from this company.

And what is all this paper for? Nothing. It’s mush; it’s pointless. But worse, it costs money. How many billions of dollars must be spent annually on this blizzard of pointless paper? For I’m fairly certain that every person getting any pills also gets this information that no one reads. Does anyone think that some old person is going to read the same densely packed text every month? Does anyone look at the pieces of paper telling them they owe no money or some co-pay which the druggist is more than amply able to inform the person of when they pick up the drugs? Besides, the co-pay notification comes after the pill is picked up.

And when I hear of “reform” of health care all I see is this endless blizzard of paper and not a reformer mentions it. Well, this is not the only thing that needs to be changed, no. But the blizzard is a major cost that could be eliminated and the money put to better use. And the foresters, printers and envelope makers can go on to better things do. What cushy contracts they must be; and no doubt, because it’s government money there’s some “Office of Compliance” and an “Office of Printing Contracts” or some such, with a bureaucrat or two or three. And all of this is for absolutely nothing.

I can understand the paper the first time one gets the drug, perhaps; but every month? I can understand a once a year synopsis of benefits and such, but every month? Separately for each pill? And the postage! My heaven’s, can you imagine the postage bill? And the post office is going out of business anyway – is this blizzard part of the government plan to keep the post office afloat, by sending pointless paper through the mails?

Well, if anyone on the hustings stopped talking about glittering generalities and squawking “I have a plan!” and a “vision for America” and a “return to values” that no one really has lost, and start saying stuff like “to save government medical costs we’re going to stop the blizzard of paper,” I would probably have a heart attack. And it might actually save a few trees, and free up good money for better stuff, like oh, lowering the deficit, paying off the national debt, and save space in the landfills. That’s reform; ending the paperwork. But I don’t hear anyone saying this, and often when I point it out people just warble something about “That’s the way it is” – yes, well, I know “that’s the way it is” and it ought to stop.

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