Wishes Can Become Reality

By Athena Godet-Calogeras

’Tis the season to make a wish list — or several. For kids the sky’s the limit; for adults the focus more often centers on real, practical and tangible needs. I’ve composed a short health care wish list, one related to experience as well as to knowledge of our county.

Wish No. 1: Government financial assistance to rid homes of radon.

Prior to moving into our Allegany home some 15 years ago, we had it inspected, including testing for radon. High amounts were found in our basement (usual case) as well as living room and dining areas, both additions to the house. We had it mitigated, sharing the $3,000 cost with the previous owner.

Radon is colorless and odorless. It is also radioactive, a gas that is formed naturally as radioactive elements in rock and soil break down. It is present outdoors where it dissipates in the wide, open space and indoors where it enters through cracks and crevices and concentrates in smaller spaces. Radon attaches to dust and other particles and can be breathed in, wreaking radioactive damage on the inhaler’s DNA.

Radon is the second leading cause of lung cancer, smoking being the first. Scientists estimate that some 20,000 deaths per year can be attributed to radon. Furthermore, studies also show that the overall risk of lung cancer from radon is even higher in smokers and former smokers. Cattaraugus rates among the highest counties in radon in New York state.

With that said, why aren’t steps taken to remedy the situation? Probably because while testing for radon is inexpensive (around $11 per kit), mitigating the problem is not. Call Environmental Health Services, 701-3386, for more information.

Depending on the number of areas with abnormally high concentrations of the gas, the homeowner can spend hundreds or thousands of dollars to remove it — with no available federal or state financial assistance. That needs to change.

Wish No. 2: Adding medical marijuana coverage to health insurance.

In 2014, Gov. Andrew Cuomo signed legislation legalizing medical marijuana. There are presently 33 states and the District of Columbus with such legislation, and rules, regulations, and prices differ among them.

An individual in our state suffering from one of several severely debilitating or life-threatening conditions, or any condition for which an opioid would be prescribed, may be eligible to receive a marijuana card to purchase medical marijuana at one of the dispensaries authorized in New York. However, the process takes time and the cost may be prohibitive for many. For information, go to the state’s website: marijuana/faq.htm

It’s ironic that it may take minutes for a doctor to prescribe opioids, substances killing more than 100 Americans a day through overdoses, but it may take weeks for a suffering person to get relief through marijuana. Also, while an opioid prescription is covered by insurance together with a small co-pay, medical marijuana may cost hundreds of dollars a month depending on the product, dose and frequency. A friend of mine with chronic and excruciating back pain recently told me that she learned she would have to pay $250 to a registered medical marijuana practitioner and then $100 per week for the dosage she needed. She cannot afford it.

What’s the option she and co-sufferers face? Try to survive with constant pain? Seek illegal means of soliciting the needed medication? Return to cheaper but addicting opioids?

Why should only those who can pay benefit by non-addicting medical marijuana? Why isn’t it covered by insurance? And why should the state impose a lengthy and complex process to obtain what’s needed? Change is needed.

Wish No. 3: Clarity on the “nuts and bolts” of Medicare- for-All/Single Payer.

I have been an advocate for quality and affordable universal health care since the 1980s. The Affordable Care Act was an important step towards that goal, but although millions of Americans were covered by the ACA, some 29 million Americans today still do not have health insurance and millions more are underinsured and cannot afford the high copays and deductibles.

For more than the past decade, I have benefitted by Medicare and am convinced that its improvement and expansion would benefit all of us. According to a recent Reuters survey, the vast majority of Americans, 70 percent, now support Medicare-for-All (M4A), otherwise known as single-payer health care.

Who wouldn’t want a health care system that covers everyone and every medical need — everywhere, and without deductibles and copays? However, there exists a profound disconnect between what we the people want and how our legislators vote. Secondly, we the people lack down-to-earth information on what a single payer system would mean and what it would cost — and for whom.

Meanwhile, the forces opposed to a M4A health care system suffuse the Internet, journals and newspapers with scare tactics that threaten high deficits, exorbitant taxes and loss of choice. We need practical information on a Medicare-for-All health care system and we need elected representatives who will enact it.

I’ve given you my health wishes; you may have others. Email them to me at Wishes remain just that until we move them into reality.

(Athena Godet-Calogeras is chairwoman of the Health Care Access Coalition and a volunteer with the Cattaraugus County Health Department.)

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