The healthcare consumer advocacy group Families USA is taking to the streets. Last week the Washington-based group launched its "Medicare Road Show," a nationwide public education effort to help seniors understand how the Medicare reform law affects their drug coverage.
Some 10,000 copies of an 11-minute video narrated by news legend Walter Cronkite will be distributed to "every senior center and retirement community in the United States," says Families USA Executive Director Ron Pollack. Cronkite's video points out gaps in the prescription drug benefit-including the "doughnut hole" that makes seniors responsible for all drug costs between $2,850 and $5,100 each year.
"Seniors are bewildered by the new Medicare law, especially its bizarre and skimpy benefits," Pollack said at a news conference to kick off the campaign last week, adding that seniors need to know that many of their benefits will be offset by growing prices that the Medicare law prevents the federal government from addressing.
Families USA is spending roughly $500,000 on the campaign, which offers a "sharp contrast" to the $9 million "political commercial" that HHS is currently running on television, Pollack said. On March 5, Pollack and crew will officially begin their road show in Miami, with 22 cities to follow.
"Seniors are between a rock and a hard place," Sydney Bild, a senior from Chicago, says in the Families USA video. Until deficiencies in the Medicare law are corrected, "I'm buying most of my drugs through Canada," Bild says. "I figured I'm saving about $2,500 a year."
Congress has yet to authorize HHS to allow the reimportation of drugs from Canada.
Doped and confused
The worlds of transplant medicine and drug-smuggling collided last week in a baggage claim center at Buffalo Niagara International Airport in a classic case of clueless criminality.
It seems that on Feb. 23 the identification numbers of two sets of packages on a Delta Air Lines flight from Atlanta to Buffalo were transposed at the Cheektowaga, N.Y., facility. In one set of two containers were frozen cardiac tissues destined for transplant surgery rooms at Buffalo (N.Y.) General Hospital and Hamilton (Ontario) General Hospital. A woman approached the transplant containers and inadvertently picked them up. Later, she called the airline to report the mistake, and was advised to return quickly, as the hospitals had called about their packages. In the meantime the airport police, with help from a drug sniffing dog, discovered the packages the woman was returning for contained 119 pounds of marijuana. Police alerted the Drug Enforcement Administration, which then staked out the airport.
"We assume the woman picking up the packages did not package them herself," says DEA Special Agent Elizabeth Jordan. "So because the numbers were mixed up and she didn't know what the box looked like, she took the wrong ones." The woman's first clue might have been that the two 40-pound boxes she picked up were stamped: "PLEASE RUSH-HUMAN TISSUE FOR TRANSPLANT."
"At this point you'd think the woman would just drop it, but greed comes into play on these things," Jordan says.
When the suspect arrived to make the switch the DEA agents arrested her and an alleged accomplice. The suspects, Canadian Tabatha Bracken, 27, and a Jamaican man named Dalvan Robinson, 42, were arraigned last week in U.S. District Court in Buffalo and charged with possession with intent to distribute.
A spokeswoman for Hamilton General Hospital said the tissue arrived in acceptable condition for transplant with only a slight delay. The vein destined for Buffalo General never arrived, however.
An official at Kaleida Health, the hospital's parent system, says no transplant patient was affected by the delayed vein, which was intended to be maintained as inventory for future procedures.
Those McClellan boys
For Mark McClellan, who has been tapped to succeed Tom Scully as CMS administrator, there are some serious politics in the family.
McClellan, currently the commissioner of the Food and Drug Administration, has a rather famous brother named Scott who works in the White House as President Bush's press secretary and who was the one who first disclosed to the media that his physician sibling had been selected for the top Medicare post.
McClellan's dad, meanwhile, is a well-known Kennedy conspiracy theorist, who wrote the book, Blood, Money & Power: How L.B.J. Killed J.F.K. Barr McClellan, who now lives in Gulfport, Miss., is a lawyer who represented President Lyndon Johnson and his interests from 1966 through 1971, according to Barr's Web site, barrmcclellan.com.
Barr's book, published in October 2003, solicited 57 reviews on Amazon.com. A sample: "McClellan's overwrought conspiracy theory claims that (Johnson)-motivated by power lust, fear of being dropped from the Kennedy ticket and the need to cover up various scandals-masterminded Kennedy's assassination with the help of his evil `superlawyer' Ed Clark."
We don't know much yet about how McClellan will handle the job as CMS administrator, but with a brother in the White House and a father who was there at a particularly interesting time in American history, he certainly comes from an interesting family.