SOMEDAY I may have to commit a crime. I don't believe I have an inherently criminal nature. I don't have a drug habit (nicotine excepted), and I don't need more money than I can earn. No, I'll become a criminal if I get sick. Without medical benefits, it may be the only way for me to get treatment.
I will choose my crime carefully; I don't want to spend much time in the City Jail, even though one of my neighbors, a man familiar with the accommodations, says, "Every American should spend a few days there, just to see what it's like."
I've heard his stories -- of sleeping on the hallway floor (because VTC that was the only available space) and of inmates relieving themselves anywhere they could (because most of the toilets had been ripped off the wall and the ones left didn't work).
Medical care? "You got to be joking," he says. "I didn't even want to eat the food in that place. I can't imagine what kind of doctors they'd give you."
Suburban lockups aren't much better. A woman who works in the Anne Arundel County detention center tells of inmates who, no matter how sick, can only get Tylenol or other nonprescription medications until a bored doctor makes his rounds in the early evening. "We let asthmatics have their inhalers," she says, "and diabetics can keep their Insulin. But prisoners can't use any other prescription drugs, even if they had them before they were arrested, until our doctor sees them."
But when you get to the state or federal level, you are treated a little better. In the Maryland House of Corrections, says one inmate, "[Medical treatment is] just as good as most of the clinics I went to on the outside, where they made me go with my medical assistance. They treat you rude and make you wait, but they get to you and take care of you. You know, whatever they have to do they do."
Former federal prisoners have had no complaints about their medical care, either. Indeed, those who have enjoyed both federal and state hospitality tell me federal prisons offer pretty good treatment -- and that the lines aren't as long as in lower-level lockups. Sure, they admit, the care may not be of the quality rich people expect from private doctors, but how many of us can afford that kind of top-drawer treatment any more? From what I have heard about medical care in federal prison, it doesn't sound half bad compared to what most of us can afford out of pocket.
There is one last advantage to government-sponsored medical care: no upper limit on your coverage. A friend recently exceeded her Blue Cross/Blue Shield maximum. Now she's on her own, left holding the bag as specialists come into her hospital room, one after another, and prod her belly briefly for $500 or more per poke.
We all know that doctors are entitled to be rich and that they aren't going to lower their fees just because none of us can afford to pay them. Medical insurance for self-employed individuals is brutally expensive and doesn't cover much. So I've decided that, if I get seriously ill with a disease that is going to cost hundreds of thousands of dollars to cure, I am going to commit a federal offense and let the government pay for my treatment.
How many Americans lack health insurance? Thirty-seven million or so? Look for us at bank counters, shoving notes at tellers that say, "This is a stickup!"
Then sitting down and waiting for the police to come take us away.
Robin Miller drives a cab in Baltimore.