The Gift of Good Health, by Bishop Council Nedd II

There are several passages in the Bible suggesting that much is expected from those to whom much is given. One of the greatest gifts that God has given to his people on earth is the gift of good health.

Like all gifts, however, competent stewardship is also required.

Medicare was originally designed as a health care safety net for America’s seniors. Launched in the mid-1960s, just a few years after America’s first manned space mission, it filled a void in our society. Throughout most of human history, old age was often synonymous with chronic illnesses. Until the advent of Medicare, many senior households faced financial devastation by the bills that accompanied long hospitalizations and surgical procedures.

As our space program once did, Medicare still offers hope. It still protects millions from financial catastrophe.

In the over 40 years since Medicare’s creation, and the world has changed. Our obsession of putting a man on the moon has become passé and great technological advances in pharmaceuticals have cut many hospital stays in half. Diabetes and hypertension, which once devastated the black community, can now be fought with medications never imagined even 20 years ago.

Until last year, Medicare strictly adhered to its original 1965 model – not offering prescription drug coverage or emphasizing preventive care or disease prevention. Congress, in adopting the 2003 Medicare Modernization Act, which for the first time provided a prescription drug benefit for Medicare beneficiaries, has now determined that seniors can be kept healthier – and taxpayers can save money – if Medicare reflects the realities of 21st century health care.

The program has been in place for over a year, and not all who are eligible have applied for these benefits – benefits that can directly affect the stewardship of their health. Currently, we are in the midst of the Medicare “open season,” which ends on December 31st. Now is the time for seniors to sign up for the Medicare prescription drug benefit or make changes to their current prescription drug plans.

The Medicare prescription drug benefits go a long way toward eliminating a problem that many seniors faced – the choice of buying food or paying for prescription drugs. There are many in the inner-city across this country who are forced, for monetary reasons, to make the unimaginable choice between food or medicine or one medicine over another.

Medicare also offers early detection screenings for cardiovascular disease and diabetes as well as wellness exams. These things will, hopefully, lead to black Americans not only living longer, but having healthier lives. It raises the prospect of closing the current 12-year life expectancy gap between black males and white females and promoting longer healthier lives for all.

Studies have shown that Medicare beneficiaries are saving at least 20 percent on their prescription drug costs with the discount cards, and many are saving substantially more. Many once thought that, with the Medicare prescription drug benefit, drug prices would increase. That has not been the case. Rather, they have remained level, if not decreased.

Critics must realize that the program is as inevitable as it is necessary. Modern medical technology is keeping people healthier longer and saving taxpayers money by reducing the need for emergency room trips and long hospitalizations.

The 2003 Medicare Modernization Act is not the panacea that will cure all the ills of the American health care system, but – like man landing on the moon – it continues to be one giant leap in the right direction.

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Bishop Council Nedd II is a member of the national advisory council black leadership network Project 21 and the executive director of the Alliance for Health Education and Development. He serves the Anglican Church’s Diocese of the Chesapeake. Comments may be sent to [email protected].

Published by The National Center for Public Policy Research. Reprints permitted provided source is credited. New Visions Commentaries reflect the views of their author, and not necessarily those of Project 21 or the National Center for Public Policy Research.

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