No vomiting

If legislators have their way, between us we are going to pay R2b more for our medicines in 2011. The solution? Just don't get sick, says Susan Erasmus.

This was the advice given by doctors in Zimbabwe two years ago when hospitals ran out of essential equipment and medication. It appears to be advice we all need to follow: getting sick is fast becoming a luxury none of us can afford.

Any volunteers?

Except that no one wakes up one morning and thinks that it looks like such a lovely day for a burst appendix, or a kidney stone, or measles. Some things in life just aren't voluntary.

Years ago, I was very amused by a sign in a pub called, very appropriately, The Smiling Skull, in Athens, Ohio. It said: No Vomiting. As if the decision to throw up on the floor was made hours in advance, with malicious intent. (Judging by what they served up as the house red, I was not at all surprised that their clients felt the need to hurl on their floor).

Then there are the delicious Chinese signs that politely ask tourists to slip and fall down carefully. Or request them to please not loiter or die in a specific place.

It is precisely because some things are not voluntary, and I am very aware of the fact that I might slip and not fall down carefully, that I am prepared to spend over R2 000 a month on my medical scheme contribution without moaning.

Hard cash

More on the issue of hard cash: I spend about R200 per month on dispensing fees at the pharmacy. Now I probably could save myself about R100 if I were to go the large chain store pharmacy route. But are they open until 9.30 in the evening when I realise I have run out of some crucial medication? No, their doors shut very firmly while I am still behind my desk at work.

I am in a perilous situation at this point: about R500 away from exhausting my medical savings account on my medical scheme. I suspect I have lots and lots of company. Of my friends, I know of only two who are still miles away from this scary milestone. They are both in their twenties and disgustingly healthy. I have no doubt that this state of affairs will eventually be rectified by the sure tread of time and the shadow of genetics.

The disturbing thing is that by all accounts things promise to be even more dire next year on the financial front.

It is estimated that the proposed amendment to pharmacists' dispensing tariffs will push up the average fee from the current R18 to about R49, an average increase of 23% in medicine prices, writes Laetitia Watson is quoted as saying on

The time has come for some drastic financial measures to be taken by all of us. That's if any further cuts can be made after the Eskom shock, the rates shock, the supermarket shock, the petrol shock.

I have long since made peace with the fact that no matter how hard I work, I will never be able to equal the lifestyle my parents had when I was a child. My father was a civil servant and my mother a part-time teacher. Those were different times and I realise the high lifestyle was enjoyed at the expense of other people. Children just don't think of these things.

In short, I am low maintenance: I am happy without a fancy car, fancy shoes, expensive jewellery, award-winning interior decoration, and luxury holidays.

But if my medical expenses are going to increase drastically, something will have to go. I am still thinking about it. But if you have a family of five, you'd better start making a plan. Because by all accounts the squeeze is on, and it's not going to let up.

The ultimate solution is of course not to get sick at all. Please contact me if you have mastered this through sheer willpower. Maybe we can go into business together. We're going to need all the extra cash we can find.

(Susan Erasmus, Health24, August 2010)

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