Aug 17th, 2009

Ask the Rock & Roll Doctor

While it is an indisputable fact that you can not underestimate the intelligence of the American public, particularly that portion that forms its political debate around the pap fed them by Fox “News”, and while it is apparent to most anyone with a brain that a significant portion of the right-wing, white, male, conservative, Christian population had its shit seriously fucked up by the (legal, coughcough BUSH coughcough) election of a black man, it still staggers me how virulent and poisonous the health care debate has come, and how quickly.

Friday, while I was standing in line at the local Greek joint, waiting on my gyro, the woman in front of me was dissing the concept of the government having anything to do with health care. (which, of course, we all know they have NOTHING to do with now. The VA, the safety net hospitals throughout the country, Medicare and Medicaid and free clinics are all just run on fairy dust and good will, I suppose.) Her logic went along these lines: “The government can’t run health care. Can you imagine? You already spend the whole day at the DMV.”

I’ve mentioned before that I spent dog years of my life working at the county hospital, where a 24 hour wait in the pharmacy to get your discharge prescription filled was the norm, and the unionized laborers in the pharmacy dumped out the pills that were counted by the time and labor saving automated pill dispensers to make sure the count was right, thereby doubling or tripling the time it took to dispense the meds. Well, that’s government health care for you. And let’s not talk about the rats at the VA hospital. I mean, yeah, I’m a Yellow Dawg Democrat, but even I know waste, fraud and stupid when I


work with it. So it’s not like I’m a gung-hu advocate of government-run health care. But I can also tell you that the reason the county hospital was packed and the waits in the ER were criminal, and it took months and months to get an appointment at the clinics is because thousands and thousands of people in Miami-Dade County didn’t and don’t have private insurance. Because they can’t afford it. Because they have existing conditions. Because of a thousand reasons. But that’s why they were and are willing to subject themselves and their families to the abuse of going to the county hospital. Because it was their only choice.

So. I asked, in a non-confrontational and totally conversational way, how long she, this loud woman, waited to see her doctor now? Well, holy shit. She spun around and started yelling at me that she can see any doctor she wants because she doesn’t have an HMO, she has a PPO. One that she WORKS to pay for. And that I, well, since my ID badge proclaims that I work for a healthcare concern, I should know better. I could see the crazy starting, so (and this may shock long-time readers and real life friends) I backed down and said nothing more to her.

Yeah. See, that’s the problem, bitch. You and I are working like dogs to pay for insurance. If I get sick, I have to call my primary care doctor, what in my childhood was called your general practitioner. He or she will get me right in…in a week or two or three. Assuming I don’t die of pneumonia before then. Once I get to the doctor’s office, I wait. I wait for an hour or two in the waiting room, and then I wait for another half hour or so in the examining room. Because it is all about the money and how many patients you can send through the meat chute in a day. If it is determined that my cough is serious enough, I might get sent to a specialist. Another month of waiting to get an appointment, another few hours of knitting in a waiting room because my time is worth nothing. And another co-payment that is random and arbitrary.

And let’s not talk about meds. OK, twist my arm. At the county hospital, I could get my meds for 10%  over cost, or $1.85, whichever was cheaper. My birth control pills cost me $1.85 a month. When I left the hospital, and had to buy them from a pharmacy, they cost me a $10 co-pay. That is, until my insurance company had a change in their formulary, at which point my co-pay became $28 a month. If I’d had to pay out of pocket, it would have been closer to $40. One day I went to the pharmacy to pick up a refill and the insurance company had changed their formulary, again. Guess what? Now I’m paying $10 a month again. But remember the original premise here? At the hospital it was ten percent over cost or $1.85. You do the math and you tell me where the $38 goes when someone has to pay full price. Do you think that the pharmacy is getting that money? The pharmacist herself? Or the pharmaceutical company shareholders. And why should the profit be so fucking high on something so necessary to so many people?

I wish I could be more coherent in my rage against the town hall assholes, and the bullshit media that legitimizes these screechers. But I can’t. The disinformation and the level of hateful rhetoric has me looking to cling to my imaginary guns and imaginary god. Most of all, it makes me want to grab bitches like that self-satisfied woman who works hard for her insurance and throttle her, then take her to the county hospital to see first hand what desperation and poverty looks like. In this country. In this best of all possible, consumer-driven, capitalist nation. Then let her explain to me, in her own words, why health care is not a right for all humans, but just those who can pay through the nose for it.

Here’s a little something my imaginary boyfriend, The Rude Pundit, dug up last week:

“Sometimes they are referred to as the ‘radical Right.’ But the fact is that there is nothing radical about them. They offer no novel solutions to the problems that plague them; indeed, they offer no solutions at all. They are immensely discontented with things as they are and furiously impatient with almost everyone in public office who can in any way be held responsible for their frustrations. But it cannot be said that they hold any clearly stated objectives or have any specific program either in common or individuals. They are fundamentally and temperamentally ‘aginners.’ And perhaps the commonest characteristic among them is anger. They can fairly be called, if nothing else, the Rampageous Right.”

That’s from Alan Barth, writing in the New York Times Magazine on November 26, 1961 (emphasis by Miz Shoes), talking about, among other things, the rise in conservative activist anger about discussions of starting Medicare. Barth continued that to this group of right wingers, “socialism is an epithet applied indiscriminately to almost any form of collective endeavor. Thus, any governmentally operated insurance program to provide medical care for the elderly is denounced as Socialist.” To them, welfare and “even the progressive income tax are all looked upon as satanically inspired deviations from capitalism.” Also driving this anger were groups like the John Birch Society (which still exists) talking about Communist infiltration into the civil rights movement and the Democratic Party, a trifecta of a conspiracy theory. Barth mentions how well-funded the groups were by wealthy donors and corporations.

And here’s one more tidbit: “Most frenetic of the fanatics is the group calling itself the Minutemen…They have actually organized themselves into armed bands of civilian guerrillas.” President John F. Kennedy didn’t say he understood how they felt. He mocked such extremism for being idiotic.

If you can, read the whole article. So many of Barth’s observations hold true for today.

Of course, like most of us, Barth was a bit too optimistic in his conclusions: “Genuine conservatives devoted to the nation’s traditions, values and institutions will be reluctant to identify themselves with the extremists or to make common cause with them.” He saw them losing power. And then Republicans nominated Barry Goldwater in 1964, and they never looked back.

And finally, this rant, which is just brilliant: