My view on health care reform will outrage many: I support a single-payer system. There, I said it. BUT, for those of you who've just written me off as a "socialist," please bear with me for a few paragraphs before you ... pull the plug. Or call me a LIAR!
At this point in the debate, I don't care WHAT kind of single-payer system we devise. It could be public or PRIVATE. We could copy the British national health care system, or we could all pay premiums to a single, private, mega-insurance monopoly.
We need ONE health insurer. No more. No less.
President Obama cited several tragic cases where our broken insurance system abruptly shortened patients' lives. But I don't need to cite similar tragedies to make my point. I need only talk about my own, garden-variety experiences in dealing with the "world's greatest health care system."
Two years ago, I fell off a ladder while painting my dining room ceiling. It was late at night, and I was rushing to finish applying a coat of primer so I could get to bed. The ladder got to rocking, and kaboom! It was my first serious injury. My femur broke in three places, including a nasty compound fracture which produced blood and gore. There was also a spiral fracture running nearly half the length of the femur. And I'd broken my left elbow, too.
I'd always wondered what broken bones felt like? Now I knew. It was midnight, and I was hollering loud enough to wake up the neighbor's dogs. My wife called 911. The half-mile trip to the hospital took all of four minutes. Treatment at the ER bordered on torture. Dick Cheney would have approved. But violations of the Geneva Conventions were necessary to determine the extent of my injuries. At one point, I lifted my head up from the gurney and asked the doctor peering down at me, "This isn't going to become an episode of 'House,' is it?"
I was scheduled for emergency surgery at 6:30 that morning. It took three hours to clean up the wound, repair my femur with a 10-inch titanium rod, and sew me up. The orthopedist had hoped to untangle the gnarl of damaged ligaments around my left knee, but he was unable to do so -- thereby limiting the ultimate range of motion of my left leg.
My hospital stay lasted a week. The hospital environment was godawful. The parade of nurses and technicians was, for the most part, a tour de force of arrogance and indifference. The food was vomitous. The room was dirty, with an unemptied potty chair in the corner by the bath. Mere existence in that hospital seemed to put me at risk of serious infection!
Despite these indignities, I was reasonably pleased with my orthopedic surgeon, and the physical therapists who worked with me afterwards were great. Today, my fourteen-inch scar is almost invisible, and I walk with my normal gait and speed -- though not without pain or diminished flexibility. My knee looks weird, but it could have been much worse.
Yet, during my week in the hospital, and the three full months of recuperation at home, I learned just how poorly our health insurance system functions. There is little or no choice, but there IS rationing of health care. And there is waste and inefficiency galore -- much of it to the benefit of insurers, doctors and hospitals alike.
The ambulance ride cost over $700, most of which I had to pay myself. I asked the insurance claims adjuster why the ride was so expensive. She blithely replied that the uninsured, using ambulances as cab service to the ER for minor ailments are jacking up the costs. Upon my arrival in the ER that fateful night, the doctors asked me what medicines I was taking. The hospital would determine if, when and how much medicine I could take -- and THEY would administer it. So, the Albutirol I took only occasionally to treat mild asthma would, I soon learned, be administered to me every day by a respiratory therapist. At grandly inflated hospital prices!
For the privilege of staying at the "Hospital St. Ritz," my insurer was charged $1,600 a day for room service alone. Thank God there wasn't a mini-bar! The entire bill for the ER, surgery, hospital room and in-house therapy came to $60,000. My insurer paid for nearly all of it, and for that I'm eternally grateful. But I had to deal with insurance agents, and claims adjusters as though it were a full-time job. I was forever on hold, calling the wrong department, or typing detailed letters. And I had to do a selling job, over and over, to convince these industry bureaucrats that I had, in fact, suffered serious injury.
There's got to be a better way to do this. I'm under no illusion that a government-run system, or a private, mega-insurance company, would make health care easy or cheap. The rich may have choices; they always do -- whether it's medical care, college education or asset management. But the rest of us, the toiling masses, have only false choices. We have the insurance plan our employer (or, in my case, my WIFE'S employer) provides. We go to the specialists our G.P. selects for us. We go to the nearest hospital if we're injured. And when our insurer raises a premium or denies a procedure, we get by with less, or do without.
Now, efforts to reform health care are in the hands not only of Barack Obama and Kathleen Sebelius, but of members of Congress with names like Baucus and Grassley, Olympia Snowe, Nancy Pelosi and, yes, Joe Wilson. And just like when we go to the doctor's office, we sit and wait. And wait some more. We've been waiting for decades.
Taylor Jones is a cartoonist and caricaturist based on Staten Island, N.Y., where he spends his free time fidgeting, breeding North American giant silk moths, vacuuming water out of his basement, and pretending to be a good dad.