Wednesday, July 11, 2007

Greedy America

I had an appointment yesterday with an oral surgeon to look at what another dentist left behind in my jaw after a difficult extraction. As I was a new patient the first order of business was filling out patient information forms and reading the office policy statements attached thereto. As it turned out, this policy statement was about one thing and only one thing: payment.

In essence, I read, the patient is entirely responsible for payment. The oral surgeon’s office does not have a contract with your insurance company and what your insurance company reimburses you is none of their concern. It’s cash on the barrel my friend. This policy was underscored by a prominent sign on the counter which read something to the effect of:

Payment in full is due at time of service. This office does not carry accounts.

Well that certainly clarified any possible nuances in the policy. The policy also made a big deal about the surgeon being highly trained with the latest techniques; that he provides highly specialized services; that you are paying for elite services and will be charged accordingly.

While I’m sure this declaration of excellence is true – or at least I guess I’ll take their word for it for now (I haven’t had the surgery yet) – it made me feel angry. I realize the juxtaposition to my recent viewing of Sicko underscored my anger, but I think I would have been feeling angry anyway. I wasn’t really angry at the oral surgeon or his office; they have to make enough money to keep the operation (no pun intended) going, and if the surgeon himself lives well I don’t begrudge him that. I even am fairly understanding of their reluctance to deal with insurance companies. Hell we all hate dealing with insurance companies. I’m really fortunate to be married to someone who is good at it.

No, what really makes me mad is that we as Americans are stuck with this system. I mean if you think about it, who better to work with insurance companies than the health providers? After all their businesses work hand in glove. The American public shouldn’t be expected to bear the burden of this complex system. Yet we are and we have so little recourse.

Now add to all that the fact that we will still be out of pocket several hundred for this procedure. I’m talking about after we get reimbursed by our insurer. I think about countries who take their public health seriously and make sure nobody is stuck paying at point of purchase (they pay via taxes, yes, but that is a tiered system – the public health services they receive are not). And the taxes they pay for their services as a whole divided on a per capita basis are lower than the premiums we and our employers pay.

Now take the fact that not one of the Republican presidential candidates is calling for universal health care. And add to that the fact that only one Democrat presidential candidate (Dennis Kucinich) is calling for public universal health care, and I am really mad. Assuming we get a Democrat elected as President (something I am not ready to assume), and assuming that President gets their pet universal healthcare program passed into law (again I’m not going to make that assumption just yet), we will still have insurance companies running the core of this system.

While we would then have a system under which everybody was covered by law, I would have to assume two things would still hold true:

1) Our premiums would continue on their upward spiral.
2) Insurance companies could still capriciously refuse coverage for all the reasons they currently claim.

So this is about corporate greed. I was pondering this greed this morning. I was asking myself how people (after all corporations are run by human beings) could be so greedy that their bottom lines trumped their compassion. It seemed all too insanely corrupt to me. Are these people lacking normal human empathy? Are they so drunk on their wealth that they see the masses as cockroaches?

But then a small light clicked on. Most of America has the same absence of empathy toward the rest of the world. That is the core of our problem.

We consume some 30 percent of the world’s resources, but have lass than 5 percent of the world’s population. Our foreign policies hinge on maintaining the so-called American way of life, as if the way of life for the remaining 95 percent of the world’s citizens is immaterial. I guess that wouldn’t be so bad if we could maintain our way of life without affecting the rest of the world, but in fact we rely on the support – willing or unwilling – of the rest of the world for securing that way of life. We’ve become a pimple on the face of our planet.

And I personally don’t do nearly enough to buck this system. I reap the benefit of cheap goods made in China. I love weekend drives (my car gets pretty good mileage but an un-necessary drive still pumps un-necessary carbon into the atmosphere and still supports the rape of citizens of the Middle East). I heat my home in the winter and cool it in the summer. I keep it fairly cold in the winter – much to the distress of visitors – and use evaporative cooling in the summer, and thus minimize my impact on the environment. But on the other hand I have twice the home I need because we’ve been able to afford it.

Although I make some concessions to green living (and we are starting to make more) I still all-in-all support a system that runs roughshod over my fellow citizens of our planet. I’m not a greedy person per se, but ours is a greedy nation and I am a member of that nation. It’s no wonder American citizens are as much the victims of greed as the world is a victim of America’s greed.

It’s said that change starts at home. I guess if I ever want to see the America I believe in I need to do my part to be an American I believe in.

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