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Letters to the editor

Monday, September 18, 2000

Too many people cannot afford the prescription drugs they need

I strongly disagree with the Aug. 31 letter "The Prescription Drug Crisis Is A Liberal Fiction." There are many people in our community and across our nation who cannot afford their medications and do not qualify for other third-party health insurance coverage.

In 1997, according to the Pennsylvania Health Department, 9.2 percent of Allegheny County's adult population was uninsured, or approximately 97,000 people. Studies have shown that of those with health insurance, usually only one-third has full prescription coverage included.

The Rx Council is a local nonprofit agency founded in 1986 to address the issue of access to prescription medication by low-income underinsured and uninsured individuals who "fall through the cracks" and do not qualify for third-party insurance coverage. This year we assisted over 2,000 Allegheny County residents without drug coverage in accessing donations of products from the drug manufacturers, valued at $504,000 (wholesale pricing). Communities from across the state have been asking for our guidance to set up similar programs to address the needs of low-income people without prescription coverage.

We work with many pharmacists who are aware of their patients' noncompliance due to inability to pay. Pharmacists, as well as physicians, other medical providers and even Pennsylvania's own Department of Public Welfare generate referrals to our program. All of these referring sources see clients struggling with an inability to pay for prescription medications, and are well aware of the limitations and gaps in existing programs.

While it is true that "many consumers never pay that full price due to private insurance coverage" consumers who can at least afford it usually pay the most out-of-pocket cost for their medications. The existing, available solutions are too limited in scope to cover all of those people who fall between the cracks.

For example: The PACE Program, funded by the state lottery, caps eligibility at $14,000 annual gross income for one person, and $17,2000 for a couple. The supplemental PACENET program income limits are $14,000-$16,000 for an individual and $17,200-$19,200 for a couple. We are fortunate to be one of only 10 states to have a senior prescription program, but it is still limited. Many of the clients we serve are on seven medications a month, which average $50/prescrition or an out-of-pocket cost of $350/month. So what does an elderly widow do for her medication if she makes $16,001 annual gross income (or $1,334/month)?

Regardless of which political party addresses the issue, changes should be made to ensure adequate drug and health insurance coverage for all of our citizens.

Executive Director
Rx Council of Western Pennsylvania

Of God and country

Foreign-affairs columnist Gwynne Dyer ("God's Country?" Sept. 3 Forum) should have consulted the original writings of America's founders before branding them as deists combining "humanistic values with a philosophical belief in some disengaged but benevolent watchmaker." Heck, he should have read Post-Gazette Editor John Craig's Aug. 20 column "By George!" just two weeks earlier, where he reported the conclusions of one George Washington researcher: "You can hardly read an important letter or paper of Washington's without coming across some mention of Providence. Washington's Providence is not" -- contra Dyer -- "a deist, watchmaker God."

Washington went further than that, again in direct opposition to Dyer's commentary. He says that the founding fathers thought that "old-time Christianity . . . was a suitable religion for women, children and slaves, but not something that should be allowed to decide political debates." Washington wrote, in his famous Farewell Address of 1796, "Of all dispositions and habits which lead to political prosperity, religion and morality are indispensable supports. In vain would that man claim the tribute of patriotism, who should labor to subvert these great pillars of human happiness, these firmest props of the duties of men and citizens."

How odd, in light of Dyer's remarks, that Ben Franklin (sometimes called the least reverent of the founders) would quote Scripture and make an earnest appeal for prayer at the Constitutional Convention of 1787. How strange that John Adams would say such a thing as, "Our Constitution was made only for a moral and religious people . . . wholly inadequate to the government of any other." How puzzling that Jefferson would ground our own Declaration of Independence and its concept of inalienable rights in the spirit of the "creator" and the "Laws of Nature and of Nature's God."


Irrelevant knots

With enemies like Post-Gazette columnist Jack Kelly, the reparations-for-slavery folks may need fewer friends. Whatever the merits or demerits of such arguments for reparations to descendants of American slaves, Kelly's "No Apologies Today" (Aug. 27) is a classic demonstration of how to tie up a counterargument in irrelevant knots.

Begin with a string of inaccuracies: Slavs were not the people most frequently enslaved by the ancient Romans. Hence the Roman word for slave was "servus" not "slav." "Slav" became synonymous with "slave" almost 1,000 years after the Germanic tribes sacked Rome. Moreover, those Slavs who did become slaves around 1300-1500 were not Catholic Poles, but Eastern Orthodox Bulgarians and Russians (among many other ethnic groups from the Balkans to the Caucasus). So Kelly's pleasantry about Italians offering compensatory pizza discounts to Poles only succeeds in adding one more stereotype to the list of silly Polish jokes.

Kelly's reference to the Arab slave trade is less inaccurate, but no less irrelevant. Yes, about 11 million sub-Saharan people were transported by the Arab slave trade in the thousand years before 1900, and about 12 million were shipped across the Atlantic by the Europeans in the 400 years before 1860. The relative size of groups has no bearing on claims being made for descendants of African slaves within the United States.

Finally, Kelly's double-standard undercuts his own basic point: "No American living today was either a master or a slave," therefore why should one accept guilt by inheritance? Only liberals, Mr. Kelly insists, "love to apologize for everyone's sins but their own." But, how sweet it is, to boast of a forbear who helped to liberate slaves. The debt line, he insists, is just one generation long. Why, then, is the credit line so much longer? And so vast.

"What is important about Western civilization is not that we for a time practiced slavery, but that we abolished it." "We" abolished? To paraphrase Mr. Kelly, is there any American living today who was an abolitionist, a Union soldier or a voter for the 13th Amendment? Abolition, it seems, has had a billion progeny, sometimes pretty conservative ones. Slavery was childless.

Squirrel Hill

We are watching

Poor little Tarentum, Brackenridge and Natrona have been hit absurdly hard in this first wave of "assessments" by the drive-by assessors, according to talks with several realtors in the area. You can't sell a house here, anyway, because we're so close to the county line that buyers figure they can do much better three miles up Route 28. This will close the door on we unfortunates who are "trapped in Tarentum," as they say.

What bears watching is the reassessments in rich areas like Fox Chapel, Sewickley, Mt. Lebanon and the like. Would you be at all surprised if these luxurious regions don't have their assessments raised in anything even approximating the proportion to which the little folks have been devastated? We "little folks" will be watching.


Thank you, officers

I am writing to commend two officers from Findlay Township. I was driving to the airport on Sept. 2 to pick up my mother. Unfortunately, on the way, I blew a front tire. I pulled over to the side of the highway in the cold and torrential rain. I was totally drenched trying to change my tire.

For my good fortune, two police officers, Sgt. Lesko and Officer Stang, noticed me from the other side of the highway. They drove miles in order to return and assist me. They were invaluable in their help even though it was not their responsibility to assist me in changing a tire. The rain was fast, cold and furious, but both officers stayed with me and helped me in my time of need.

I would also like to remind all the cynics in this world that police officers do look out for you. So, do not have an attitude and give them a difficult time, but give them the respect they so rightfully deserve. Each day they are risking their lives for you. The life they save could be yours someday.

North Side

Recognize the achievements of this public servant

What a sad irony that within two weeks of the dedication of the West Busway Sept. 8, the community had to bury Robert Kochanowski, the executive director of the Southwestern Pennsylvania Commission (" 'Quiet Giant,' Realistic, Modest," Aug. 26).

In my 65 years of involvement with public service, I have not seen a more competent, effective professional than Bob Kochanowski. As a member of the public panel that verified his planning, I attest that he more than anyone was responsible for the successful planning and execution of the West Busway. To watch his adroit handling of the various politicians and government functionaries was a sheer marvel.

Only the name of the late Jack Robin, former director of the Urban Redevelopment Authority, comes to mind in the pantheon of public servants when one contemplates all that Bob Kochanowski did, planning for Southwestern Pennsylvania. Let's hope that one day we will memorialize this outstanding public servant with name recognition on one of his projects.

What a pleasure it was to watch him prepare for our transportation comforts in the 21st century. May we always remember this fine public servant.


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