Every once in a while I read something that makes me terrified to go to the hospital. This is one of those cases. Starner Jones, M.D., is apparently comfortable talking trash about his patients … but not so good at math. He’s noticed that, for example, his patient had “a very expensive brand of tennis shoes” but didn’t have health insurance. Maybe Jones doesn’t realize the cost differential between shoes and health insurance? Are people who are that bad at math really allowed to work in emergency rooms?
Dear Mr. President:
During my shift in the Emergency Room last night, I had the pleasure of evaluating a patient whose smile revealed an expensive Shiny gold tooth, whose body was adorned with a wide assortment of elaborate and costly tattoos, who wore a very expensive brand of tennis shoes and who chatted on a new cellular telephone equipped with a popular R&B ringtone.
While glancing over her Patient chart, I happened to notice that her payer status was listed as “Medicaid”! During my examination of her, the patient informed me that she smokes more than one costly pack of cigarettes every day and somehow still has money to buy pretzels and beer.
And, you and our Congress expect me to pay for this woman’s health care?
I contend that our nation’s “health care crisis” is not the result of a shortage of quality hospitals, doctors or nurses. Rather, it is the result of a “crisis of culture”, a culture in which it is perfectly acceptable to spend money on luxuries and vices while refusing to take care of one’s self or, heaven forbid, purchase health insurance.
It is a culture based on the irresponsible credo that “I can do whatever I want to because someone else will always take care of me”. Once you fix this “culture crisis” that rewards irresponsibility and dependency, you’ll be amazed at how quickly our nation’s health care difficulties will disappear.
STARNER JONES, MD
I suppose I shouldn’t assume that everybody working in an emergency room has trouble with basic financial math. Perhaps many doctors understand that you can buy a whole lot of ringtones, shoes, tattoos, and cellphones for the cost of health insurance. Perhaps they also understand that heavy smoking and a gold tooth are going to correlate with lack of access to preventative health and dental care. Perhaps they know that Medicaid is means-tested and that purchasing health insurance on the open market when you qualify for Medicaid is likely to be mathematically impossible in most states. And maybe they’re clever enough not to attach their names and faces to such boneheaded rants. Maybe I shouldn’t use one example of an irresponsible and ether-brained doctor to draw conclusions about the rest of the profession.
Do I want Starner Jones to pay for the healthcare of the woman he evaluated? Not really. I’d much prefer Karma caught up to him and he swapped positions with the woman he delighted in looking down on. The rest of us can pay for his healthcare. (Sorry, Starner. It’s the smirk. It rubs me the wrong way. I don’t normally do schadenfreude.)
But maybe Starner and I can agree that we have a “culture” problem, even if we’re a bit vague on what it is. Afterall, I find talking trash about a woman so down-on-her-luck that the ER doc is mocking her culturally repugnant. Maybe we need to focus on fixing this cultural problem. Except … that requires education investment. And any effort to improve education is going to run into a wall if we can’t address poverty. So, fine. Starner, maybe we can make your libertarian dream come true. First we’ll eradicate poverty. Once you figure out how to do that you can watch our means-tested social safety net shrink and vanish.