Health Care? I Care


June 12, 1994|By DAVE BARRY

Today I want to bring you up-to-date on national health care. I happen to know quite a bit about this because I had lunch recently with Hillary Rodham Clinton, although she was probably unaware of this fact, because the room also contained several thousand newspaper executives belonging to the Newspaper Association of America (motto: "Keeping You Accurately Informebkljsdfxc"). It was one of those mass banquet luncheons where squadrons of waiters come swooping out of the kitchen carrying trays stacked high with plates protected by steel covers, which they whisk off at your table to reveal, to your astonishment and delight: chicken.

The reason you always get chicken at these affairs is the Federal Interstate Chicken Transport System (FICTS), which was built during the Eisenhower administration to ensure that the nation would still be able to hold banquet luncheons after a nuclear war. All major hotels are connected via a vast underground network of pneumatic tubes to huge chicken factories in Delaware and Arkansas, where thousands of chicken parts per second are fed into the tubes under extremely high pressure. These parts sometimes travel thousands of miles before blasting out into hotel kitchens all over the nation, where workers frantically convert them into banquet meals. Each year hundreds of kitchen workers are injured by chicken breasts traveling at upward of 400 miles per hour. This is yet another reason why we need to be concerned about health care.

So I was so eager to hear Mrs. Clinton's speech before the American Newspaper Association luncheon. It was great. She kept the crowd in stitches with a series of hilarious health-care jokes, such as the one about the guy who goes to see the doctor because he keeps finding turtles in his undershorts.

No, I am kidding. Mrs. Clinton did not tell jokes. Mrs. Clinton is very serious about health care. She knows tons of facts about it. I can tell she's the kind of person who, in sixth grade, had her Science Fair project done early, and it featured elaborate, neatly lettered color diagrams and a meticulously executed experiment involving test tubes and petri dishes.

I tried to pay close attention as Mrs. Clinton discussed the administration's health-care plan. I would say she's in favor of it. I'm afraid I can't offer much more detail, because health care is one of those issues that my brain refuses to think about.

"Pay attention!" I'd tell my brain. "The first lady is explaining health care!" But my brain would drift off, pursuing its own interests, trying to remember the words to the Beach Boys' 1963 song, "Our Car Club," which never gets played on the radio, and for good reason. Mrs. Clinton would be talking about the administrative expenses of Medicare, and my brain would be singing:

"We'll have the roughest and the toughest initiation we can find ..."

It's a good thing I'm not in charge of national health care. I can't understand my own medical bills. Last spring my son suffered some injuries requiring medical treatment, and ever since I've been receiving incomprehensible bills from dozens of random medical computers. I'm pretty sure that I'm now paying for medical care given to people injured in the Hindenburg disaster. The bills all look like this:

"With reference to the above referenced account, your 73 percent deductible differential has not been satisfied with respect to your accrual parameter, and therefore you are obligated to remit $357.16 no make that $521.67 here are some more random amounts $756.12, $726.56 and $3,928,958.12 bear mind that we would enjoy nothing more than seeing your pale skinny body in prison."

This is a true story: A while back, out of the blue, I started receiving threatening letters from a collection agency representing a hospital, demanding $101.76. So I sent the agency a check. Last week, on the same day, I received (a) a letter from the collection agency returning my check, with a note stating that I did not owe the money; and (b) a new threatening letter from the same agency, demanding $101.76. I'm thinking that the only way out of this might be the Federal Witness Protection Program.

Of course I'm sure medical care will become much simpler and more efficient once it's being handled by the federal government. I'm hoping that Mrs. Clinton and the Congress work out some kind of plan soon, and I'm hoping that it covers routine doctor visits. Because I need to see somebody about these turtles.

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