published Monday, April 14th, 2014

Pam's Points: Eye-popping medicare costs, U.N. vote monitors and things unworthy of ink

Eyes on Medicare

Don't be blinded by the hype over recent stories about big Medicare payouts uncovered in data analysis.

To be sure, the information is critical to understanding health care costs, but before labeling doctors -- especially eye doctors -- as "Medicare Millionaires" as the New York Daily News did, take a deep breath.

The data shows that about 3,300 ophthalmologists were paid a total of $3.3 billion from Medicare. Much of the spending was the result of an expensive and frequent treatment for a kind of age-related macular degeneration, the leading cause of severe vision loss in the elderly, and the cost of the drug is factored into the payments doctors receive.

Well, what's it worth for you -- or for your mom and dad -- to still be able to drive to the store, to still see your children, to live independently? How much does the alternative -- blindness -- cost?

A tiny fraction of the 880,000 doctors and other health care providers who take Medicare accounted for nearly a quarter of the roughly $77 billion paid out to them under the federal program. Some doctors receive millions of dollars each -- sometimes in a single year -- according to the most detailed data ever released in Medicare's nearly 50-year history.

The bulk of the money goes to ophthalmologists (who also treat cataracts) and to rheumatologists, oncologists and hematologists -- i.e. the docs who treat old-age illnesses.

Old age is not for sissies. And it certainly isn't cheap. So don't let too little information lead to knee-jerk talk and action.

U.N. voting rights monitors

The Nashville nonsense is nonstop.

Last week, both the Tennessee Senate and House passed bills aimed at preventing United Nations election monitors from coming into Tennessee to observe elections. The Senate version passed 23-2. The House vote was 75-20.

A different version of the bill passed last year. Tea party lawmakers pushed the measure after a U.N.-affiliated group in 2012 sent two observers to Nashville to monitor elections as part of a program to see if Tennessee's new photo ID requirement impacted voting. You may recall that our far-right lawmakers -- the same ones who don't want voting to be convenient for blacks or women or young people -- several years ago required voters to possess state or federally issued photo IDs. Never mind that drivers over 60 were not required to have their pictures on renewed licenses, and many elderly Tennesseans -- especially women -- had never obtained a driver's license or U.S. passport -- let alone birth certificates or long-misplaced marriage licenses to confirm name changes.

In late 2011, 96-year-old Dorothy Cooper, of Chattanooga, was stopped from getting a photo ID card at a Red Bank driver's license center, even though she had her birth certificate, Social Security card and voter registration card in hand. It took a second visit, and even then a call by an elected official to speak with a clerk, to secure a voter ID for a woman who missed participating in only one election since she began voting in the 1940s.

Bring on the U.N.

(Not)zis demonstrate here?

You'll find no skinheads or swastikas on this page. They're not worth the ink.

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