Whatever You Do, Don't Get Sick
Wednesday, Mar. 5, 2008 at 9:35am
In the national debate on health care, which of course is front and center now that we have an election on hand, there is a lot of justified thought being given to the problem of insurance. A lot of Americans have none, and that certainly is a problem that needs a quick and humane solution.
Somewhat less discussed is the fact that even if you have health insurance you still can't get a doctor. Where have they all gone? Perhaps they're hiding.
Most of the people I know, thank goodness, have coverage provided by either their company or their spouse. Whether these insurance companies ever actually pay more than lint balls on actual healthcare costs is a matter that we will not discuss here, except to say that I want to congratulate my health care provider for finding a place that will do an MRI for $24.95, the approximate reimbursement they calculate for that test, I believe. This, of course, is better than nothing, and well worth the eighteen month wait for their check.
They also excel at providing a rationale for these kinds of paybacks. Unfortunately, they are printed in such small type that they cannot be read without special glasses I cannot afford because the eyecare part of my coverage believes that glasses still cost $4.99 and you get an extra pair.
Anyhow, that's not the point. What's amazing to me is how many people I know don't really have doctors per se. Most of my friends in California go to one form of mass clinic type thing or another, as in Kaiser or their local emergency care facility associated with a teaching hospital. One friend of mine whose spouse pays in the neighborhood of $12,000 per year for his health care got sick last weekend and went looking for a doctor. No local offices were open." It's like trying to find a vet on the weekend," she said. Considering that the problem involved the bite of a deer tick, time was of the essence. So she had to go to the intake room of a very highly regarded local hospital. Once there, she found some 50 people hawking up phlegm in the lobby of the place. She left. "I'd rather have Lyme disease than TB," she explained.
The next day I spoke to my daughter, who sounded like she had lost the use of at least 1.5 lungs. "Go to the doctor!" I screamed at her with I hope the proper amount of sympathy. "I don't have a doctor," she said. "I don't even know a doctor. And I never think of getting one until I'm sick, and then it's too late."
That's the thing. You can't call a doctor if you're sick. You have to be well and dedicate several weeks, at least, to the effort, at which point you may be granted the right to visit the physician several weeks hence, if you can schedule your illness to fit within that time frame.
A pal of mine was feeling poorly for one reason or another and called a GP whose name had been given to him by his insurance provider. "I'd like to come in," he said to the all-powerful gorgon who guarded the doctor's appointment calendar. "How's three weeks from Thursday?" said the amanuensis.
This may not be a bad thing altogether. I find lately that whenever I do manage to get in to see a doctor, I have exactly the ailment of which he or she is a specialist. That's not a good thing, no matter what the specialty is.
The bottom line, I think, is that our health care system doesn't really want you to see a doctor, unless it's to write out the prescription for the medicine you saw on TV. We don't treat sick people. We treat well people. As a business, that makes a whole lot more sense, when you consider which part of the system has the highest margins.