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ESSAY | VOICES / A Fourm for Community Issues

'Less Than the Cost of One Day in a Hospital'

September 06, 1997

As part of Medicare cutbacks recently passed by Congress, funds for oxygen will be reduced 25% in 1998 and 30% in 1999. The Health Care Financing Administration, an arm of Medicare, is working out details of where the cuts will fall. Medicare providers have lower profit margins on portable oxygen tanks and thus probably will want to provide most people with stationary tanks, says Mary Burns, a UCLA assistant clinical professor of nursing. This would force many now mobile to become home-bound. JACK BAUMAN, 75, a Palos Verdes landscape designer and contractor, became ill 14 years ago with bronchiectasis, a deterioration and infection of the lung's oxygen-filtering system. He talked with TRIN YARBOROUGH about his situation.

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My condition came on gradually. At first I coughed a lot, then it became harder and harder to breathe. Day or night, just drawing a breath became a struggle, and when the smog or humidity was bad, it was really difficult. Working was impossible and even moving around at home made me huff and puff. I kept getting weaker. And I felt especially bad because I knew I would have to give up a longtime dream to travel to some Pacific islands near where I served in the Navy in World War II. I felt depressed and discouraged.

Gaseous oxygen helps, but a big heavy tank, or even a smaller gaseous tank that's hard to lift when you're sick and that only lasts a couple of hours, will keep you home-bound. A liquid oxygen tank weighs as little as 5 1/2 pounds, lasts five to eight hours and you can refill it yourself. With it, I'm able to exercise a little, which keeps my condition from worsening and allows me to continue working afternoons at a garden center. My wife and I were even able to take our dream trip because the oxygen supplier loaded enough canisters on the boat to make it possible.

If I'm cut off from portable oxygen, I'll have to quit working and walking for exercise, and my condition will deteriorate. I'm afraid I'll become just a vegetable. It's scary to think that the government would take away people's ability to work and get around.

It's not cost-effective. There's no way I could afford the almost $350 a month for oxygen. But that's less than the cost of one day in a hospital. And with oxygen cutbacks, more and more people definitely will end up hospitalized.

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