Someone get me off this godforsaken island

Rob Eder

Remember “Gilligan’s Island?” Man, that was a great show. The thing about “Gilligan’s Island” was that no matter what else happened, you just knew they were never getting off that island.

It really didn’t matter how rock bands, movie stars or Russian cosmonauts washed up on shore, the passengers and crew of the S.S. Minnow were never getting off that island.

And that’s why eventually you just had to stop watching. You already knew the ending, and at some point the jokes just got stale.

That’s the way I feel sometimes watching this whole health-reform debate unfold—like I’m watching an old episode of “Gilligan’s Island.” Only this time it’s not so funny.

It’s not that much of a stretch when you think about it, really. Because just like the castaways, each of whom clearly wanted off the island, it’s hard to find a person in America who doesn’t believe that our healthcare system needs fixing.

“You’re going to find that Sen. Frist and I actually agree on a lot of things,” former Vermont Gov. Howard Dean told the crowd attending The Academy of Managed Care Pharmacy’s annual educational conference earlier this month in San Antonio.

Dean and former Sen. Bill Frist, R-Tenn., spoke on the subject of “Reinventing Health Care in America,” and although a vast chasm exists between the politics of the two men, their comments—spoken from the perspective of doctors first, politicians second—were a refreshing reminder of how ridiculous a lot of the health-reform discussion has become. This idea that ObamaCare would feed the creation of “death panels” is about as absurd as thinking that you can flip a switch and provide 47 million Americans with a health plan like the one enjoyed by members of Congress without potentially bankrupting the country and perhaps everyone in it.

“If you’re uninsured, you die sooner in this country,” Frist said. “If you’re uninsured in this country, you don’t get preventive/wellness care. You don’t get the cuff around your arm to tell you need to take the antihypertensives that prevent you from coming to see me as a heart and lung transplant surgeon to cut out your heart and put another one in; it’s just as simple as that to me.”

You can’t just paint this issue into a red-state/blue-state thing, because clearly Frist and many other members of the GOP get it. Because no matter how much good might come out of it, “we can’t keep borrowing on our future.” And you just can’t write a blank check for all of this.

“The bottom line is, if we’re spending 3 trillion on health care now, we can’t just put 47 million uninsured on top of it,” CVS chairman, president and CEO Tom Ryan noted during a recent CNBC appearance. “We have to find a way to do it piecemeal, where we…look for cost savings around evidence-based medicine, around the use of generics,” and other means, he said.

And that’s not even where all of this falls down, according to Frist—and I agree with him. “What the American people are going to want to know is, ‘What’s in it for me?’” Frist explained. “And if the Democrats that pass the bill can’t answer that question, we are in trouble as a country.”

“If we are just requiring a person making $44,000 a year to have to purchase a $14,000 policy, this just isn’t going to work,” Frist said.

The other issue, of course, is that Americans who have insurance tend to like what they have, as Dean himself pointed out.

Insistence on a public option, Drug Store News believes, is another area in which this whole health-reform movement comes off the tracks. As important as this whole thing has become to the political careers of so many in Washington, D.C., we definitely will get some kind of legislation when all of this is done. But the only way we get real reform is if the private sector leads the way on this.

“We don’t think the public option is the way to go. We think, in fact, that it will stifle competition and innovation,” Ryan added during his early September CNBC appearance. “If anything, a public-private partnership might be the answer, similar to the federal employee healthcare program or the Medicare Part D drug coverage program.… We save seniors $1,200 on average—a third less than government estimates.”

It’s no news flash that the retail pharmacy industry can play a huge role in lowering the total cost of health care in America. “Look at the drug spend,” Ryan said. “A dollar invested in prescription drugs, where people take them appropriately, saves $7 in the healthcare system.” That doesn’t even begin to account for the impact clinics could have if we used them correctly, or the broader role the community pharmacist could play in extending access to basic care.

Underneath it all, I guess I am still hopeful that we might see some meaningful reform. But at times, it sure has been a lot like watching an old episode of “Gilligan’s Island.” Because just like the castaways, all of whom seemed to want off the island, you get the sense that Congress—both sides of the aisle—the Obama administration and all of America just isn’t hearing the answer. And just like some Russian cosmonaut or British Invasion rock band that washed ashore on Sherwood Schwartz’s fictional island, you get the sense that the proverbial ship just might sail on true reform long before we do anything to fix what’s really wrong with health care in this country. And by then, it may be too late to ever get off this godforsaken island.

For the record, I really hope not. But inevitably, that’s why I had to stop watching “Gilligan’s Island.” It just made me sad.

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