Wednesday, March 30, 2011


March 30, 2011

So I had my head examined at Emory. An MRI at MRE. Stuffed into that lonesome tube for magnetic resonance imaging, which is how a hot dog must feel inside the bun. Wasn’t allowed to move a muscle for 45 minutes, not even a knuckle to ease a tickly nose.
I suspect that once they’ve coaxed a victim into the cylinder those mischievous technicians like to sic hungry fleas on them, so I made mine, Brooke, promise not to do that.
There were still plenty of other little itches I was forbidden to scratch, but the irritation that caused most botheration was what the receptionist had said minutes earlier. She’d been an Emergency Room nurse for 25 years, she declared, and she just knew socialized medicine sucked. And that here in the good old USA you don’t have to wait for emergency surgery – not like you do in countries like Canada and England.
Red-white-and-blue flag to a John Bull, I’m afraid. Translation: Red rag to a British bloke. Which means that while I am a proud and loyal American citizen I cannot allow bovine excrement like this to be disseminated about the country of my birth.
I will say it loud and clear: There is no wait for surgery, emergency or critical, in Britain. Nor in Canada, Australia, New Zealand, South Africa or any of the west European nations. Period.
True, there is a delay for procedures that are no threat to one’s health. Can be months, depending. If you need a boil removed from your bottom – you’ll be sitting on it a long time. Wait your turn.
The doctor in England just sent my friend Stuart’s 10-year-old daughter to the hospital with stomach pains. Within one hour her tests show it’s a kidney infection, she’s prescribed drugs and released. Diagnosis and treatment first class. And quick.
Same with her dad another time. In agony, he’d called emergency at 4am. Four hours later the hospital doctors had removed his gangrenous appendix and cleansed his peritoneum and by noon he was home. Eight years later x-rays showed a kidney stone causing him suffering; within 48 hours he’d been treated and released.
Not one penny ever changed hands. It comes out of everyone’s taxes.
Of my other buddies in the Mother Country five have undergone major procedures - kidney transplant, colostomy, two heart bypass operations, hip and knee replacements – and they all praise the system’s speed and efficiency. Conversely, my Spanish tutor in Covington had a heart attack New Year’s Eve and a bypass op at Piedmont days later. With sepsis and other complications he’s only now back home after nigh on three months.
So how bad is socialized medicine? The British are known complainers who enjoy bellyaching about their National Health Service, but try to replace it with private enterprise and you’ll have a revolt on your hands.
Indeed, the wait-time has grown in Britain, and, to a lesser extent, in countries like France, Germany and Italy, mainly due to the mass influx of destitute folks from the erstwhile communist territories. Now that they’re citizens of the enlarged European Union they’ve gained entitlements and they swamp the available resources.
Several of our 50 states report that exact same problem, one of overburdening.
The system in place in this country is in fact very similar to Europe’s socialized ones, and I’ll explain.
Here’s a hospital. Here come the waves of indigent people, many foreign, with sniffles and backaches as well as more serious ailments. They clog the waiting rooms, slowing everything down, and the poor economy continues to swell the ranks of these uninsured. Before we lose our jobs and our homes one of the first “luxuries” we sacrifice is health insurance. We choose to wing it.
Because of doctors’ sworn Hippocratic Oath they cannot turn the sick away, so the cost of treating those who can’t pay is passed on to those who can by way of inflated bills. False bills. The insurance companies cover them, and then raise the rates for their customers. So we all pay. This system is not unlike those in the countries named above with one vitally important difference...
There is no CEO like Cigna’s Edward Hanway, who stuffed $120 million into his pockets while hiking rates up to 82% and denying a 17-year-old girl a liver transplant. She died. None like Stephen Hemsley, boss of UnitedHealth Group, who makes some $13 million a year and who, along with his multi-millionaire aides, has been labeled a fraudster by the SEC, the Securities And Exchange Commission.
No carnivorous corporation dipping its ladle into the money pot between patient and doctor. Instead there’s the government, an entity with no executives and shareholders to vacuum out fat profits for themselves. I know there’s always ineptitude and waste when civil servants are involved, but I’ll take government inefficiency over corporate greed any time.
Socialized setups are fairer because every working person pays; here those with insurance bear the entire burden for everyone.
My wife’s insurer, we call it Blue Skull & Crossbones, sent demands for an extortionate $734 a month – which works out only pennies short of Georgia’s $5.15 an hour minimum wage. Except she thwarted them by turning 65. That’s the only way to escape these health pirates: grow old and flop into the caring hands of the US Government.
The receptionist at Emory doesn’t want Washington involved in her health care. No way, she said. Grrr. She gave her age as 60 and chirruped that she had only five more to go before she’d be eligible for Medicare. She also qualifies for Social Security in two years’ time.
What I say to her is this: Dear lady, you’re entitled to your preferences and your hatred of our government. Both Medicare and Social Security are government programs, so when the checks start arriving I expect you to return them


© 2011 Fred Wehner is a journalist formerly with the Daily Mail in London, who then founded and ran the New York News Agency before settling in Monroe 21 years ago.