The salary of a poet is meager even in the best of times. This is why it is good that the collateral job benefits of the bard are many, the world treats you as a guest and tells you its secrets, on occasion you dine at the most opulent tables, beautiful women smile upon you, etc. But we don’t get health insurance. This is why I’m thankful not just to be a poet, but to be a poet in America. This wonderful country is full of paradoxes and one of the most flambouyant of these is how we persistently and vociferously present ourselves as a hard-headed, free-market, take-no-prisoners capitalist society while we are in fact a generous, kind-hearted, sentimental and pragmatically socialist society in the practice of our institutions and everyday lives. We provide for the weak and make adjustments for the unfortunate.
As The Poet’s Eye has noticed most recently, the area of how we manage and deal with healthcare as a nation is a grand example of this magnificent American contradiction. While insisting that the free market rules our healthcare policies, the government is hands down the largest player in the game and to the extent that capitalist interests are a factor, they take the ride purely at the pleasure, behest and the permission of government.
As some of my readers know, the attention of The Poet’s Eye has been forcibly dragged to the perfect vantage point from which to examine our healthcare apparatus and how it functions. I contracted cancer. After 40 years of enthusiastic and unashamed cigarette smoking, my voice began to crack in unusual ways. After some months of valiant denial and manly procrastination I submitted myself and my vocal complaint to the Emergency Room at Parkland Memorial Hospital in Dallas, Texas. As I mentioned, I have no insurance. Nor do I have a lavish stream of royalties or for that matter any income at all. Poets must swear vows of poverty and mine are honest and complete.
When I presented myself and my raspy voice to the receptionist at Parkland, her question to me was not ‘are you insured?’ or ‘how are you going to pay?’ What she asked was ‘What is the matter and how can we help you?’ This is proof that for all our squawking to the contrary, we have socialized medicine in America.
I find myself in a position to observe the workings of our healthcare system from the inside out. Because of this I have decided to devote occasional editions of The Poet’s Eye to the purpose of commenting on American Healthcare. I do this not with the intent to change or expose or to promote outrage but simply to describe what I observe from the very subjective viewpoint that is offered to me by virtue of my role as either a victim or beneficiary of the system. I hope it furnishes my readers with some modest insight into a subject they would understandably prefer not to experience for themselves. I hope I can accomplish this goal with the same honesty and good humor you have come to expect from The Poet’s Eye.
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Since I committed myself to the care of the Parkland socialized healthcare system, I have had two major and several minor surgeries, enjoyed the nursing staff in pre-op, post-op, ICU, and recovery hospital rooms and wards, been fed by their kitchens and fussed over by their specialists and counselors. Aside from a few co-pays for prescriptions and clinic visits, i have paid them nothing. The costs have been bourn, through various arcane routes, by my fellow taxpayers. We have socialized medicine in America, clear and present. I am proof of it. But in our phobia of the very word socialism, we operate the system in a variety of stupid, inefficient and downright fraudulent ways that make it cost us more and serve us less.
The very fact that I am writing these words testifies that the Parkland Socialized Heallthcare System has kept this humble pauper alive. When it was a matter of cancer and life and death, I was taken care of as any citizen of a modern, humane liberal democracy should be taken care of. They saved my life. From the moment I walked into the Emergency Room, it was only a matter of days before they performed the operation to remove my cancer and save my life. This is laudable, but it makes me wonder why the system will move with such admirable agility in order to cure my cancer but is stumbling all over itself when it comes to saving me from blindness. I agree that death is a more serious condition than blindness, god knows, we have to draw the line somewhere, but it would just seem to me that both are to be avoided and so merit the extension of our medical mercies. But this isn’t the case and The Poet’s Eye has already moaned at length about how it is nearly impossible for a person without private medical insurance to obtain the simple medical miracle of cataract surgery. The procedure, which is performed in India for 250 dollars, has been chosen as one of the private profit centers that the insurance cartels have allowed as a kickback to the medical professions. The cataract operation is an example of the stupid inefficiencies of a system that won’t be honest about whether it is public or private. The price of medical procedures isn’t determined by the difficulty of the procedure, how much it actually costs to perform in terms of personnel or equipment or expertise. The marketplace doesn’t decide how much it costs, not supply nor demand. What decides the cost of a medical procedure is how much the insurance mafia will pay for it. They set the prices. This is why a fifteen minute operation can cost 15,000 dollars.
This became evident as we were preparing for the Save The Poet’s Eyes Benefit Concert. Since the concert is being held for the purpose of paying for my badly needed cataract surgery, I needed to know exactly how much the operation costs. My friend VanZandt offered to help do the research into this question. There are a healthy number of private commercial clinics who make livings selling the miracle of sight. There is something so inescapably Christlike about a doctor who can perform this most symbolic of classical miracles, the restoration of sight, the healing of the blind. Maybe this is why the notion of buying and selling this miracle like a common commodity in the marketplace, is such an insult to my sense of the sacred. Selling miracles seems almost as profane as selling indulgences. After interviewing the various large franchise operations like Key-Whitman etc and some local private clinics, we established that the going rate for accomplishing the task that Christ would have performed for free on the roadside to Damascus seems to be in the range of 10 to 15 thousand USD.
My friends down at Southwestern Medical at Parkland will also do the operation. The only problem is that the waiting room is deep; one has to forge through his blindness for upwards of two years before his number comes up. But since we were doing research, I wondered what the price would be from Parkland for a cash and carry customer? And if I paid cash, how long would the wait be then? It had been tricky but not impossible to get this information from the private clinics. They were accustomed to dealing with insurance companies and Medicare and not with individual cash-paying customers.
So, with his charming and professional telephone method, VanZandt tackled the task and talked to what turned out to be a string of representatives of the institution. They would dutifully look through the bowels of their computer systems, they would ask their colleagues, but at the end of the day, nobody could tell him what the operation would cost for a paying customer. Here is VanZandt’s slightly frustrated firsthand report:
Parkland Ophthalmology Clinic
After 5 calls to every redirected department that
told me that someone at another department would be
able to give REAL HARD DEPENDABLE Cash and Carry
price…..the fact is no one fucking knows what the cost
of anything really is. I don’t think that actually
getting paid for services at Parkland ever actually
happens… so they have never prepared for that situation
by actually knowing what the costs are for the procedures.
But if I was in their System already ……ahhhhhh then they
could help me with with some forms and some paper work and
THEN….ohhhh yes…then they can give me a price down to
the penny….which I would then not pay because….I’m part
of the Parkland System and that’s what they expect me to do
and that is why the number doesn’t mean anything……or
if I had insurance then my insurance company would tell them what they can charge and ….that is what they would charge.” –VanZandt
As the Save The Poet’s Eyes Benefit Concert draws closer, this poet is uber-mindful of the fact that not everyone who is in my position, being an uninsured person who needs medical attention, has the network of generous and talented friends that I have. Not everyone is lucky enough to have friends who can throw a concert to raise money for their operation. Until we get honest with ourselves about what kind of a society we want to inhabit, until we see that an enlightened and humane society takes care of all its citizens in the area of healthcare and that the best way to do this is with Universal Healthcare, we will be leaving our less-forutnate members stranded blind on the road to Damascus.
I hope that everyone who attends the concert and auction or who makes a donation online will also be mindful of the dire need we as a society have for Universal Healthcare.
To show that you are in favor of Universal Healthcare and to donate money to the Save The Poet’s Eyes fund, GO HERE.