Gadfly: The Eel, The Van, And The Skulls Of Twenty Cows

Ed Raymond

As one gets older you discover the world is always filled with surprises, sometimes when we least expect them. A man in San Jose, California bought a used minivan for $14,000 at a car lot. After driving it around the city and to his job, he discovered that the van had $500,000 worth of cocaine hidden in secret crevices in the vehicle.  He immediately called the police and they verified the discovery. Question: What would have happened to the minivan owner if he had been in an accident at a stoplight which revealed his vehicle was loaded with cocaine? What are the sentencing guidelines for possession of that amount of drugs?

Eight months ago the members of the Tochimoto family north of Tokyo were milking their herd of purebred cows when the earthquake hit and the tsunami rushed in and blew up one of the Fukushima nuclear reactors. The family had to evacuate immediately because of the intense radiation. There is now a 12-mile no-go area which includes their farm. A neighbor who had a herd of Wagyu beef valued at $13,000 per cow lost $6.5 million in a tsunami second. After six months he was given permission and a dosimeter to check his farm. He also went into the Tochimoto’s barn and saw the skulls and bones of 20 of the family’s cows still tethered to the their milking machines. Remember the lines from Robert Burns about mice and men? Something about plans often go awry.

Zhang Nan was taking a Chinese spa bath in a tank of tiny, live slippery eels which would nibble away layers of his dead skin. Suddenly Zhang felt the pain of a tiny eel entering his penis and wriggling up through his urethra. The eel ended up in his bladder. He needed an operation to remove it. Try selling this story to a health insurance review agent questioning your application for coverage.

Think of the thirteen residents of Tucson, Arizona who went to a grocery store parking lot to see their Congressional representative and ended up being shot and hospitalized. Some of the wounded did not have any health insurance. A few spent weeks hospitalized. Is that a life-changing “incident” which may bankrupt some of them?

Life certainly has its surprises.

Should We Let The Sick Die?

During a Republican presidential nomination debate in Tampa a few weeks ago CNN anchor asked Michele Bachmann and the Seven Dwarfs this question: “Suppose a healthy 30-year-old decides to forgo paying for insurance, but then ends up in the hospital for six months of intensive care.  Should we just let him die?”  Some members of the audience yelled, “Yeah!” Seven ducked the question and Ron Paul, the Libertarian from Texas, squeezed out this bit of nonsense: Churches, neighbors and friends should take up collections for him!

Not many in the audience knew that Paul’s campaign manager in 2008 died without insurance, leaving behind a $400,000 hospital bill. Friends collected less than $40,000 before giving up. This reinforces the idea that life has its surprises. Some say: “Crap happens.”  But who really ends up paying the bill for this “immortal” young freeloader who never figured the “eels” of the world would get him before his time? We all do.

Do we let them die? A case described in USA Today of an eight-year-old girl diagnosed with leukemia outlines the problems even if you have health insurance. The parent’s original policy had a lifetime limit of $1 million. By age 9 her care already cost $770,000, and her oncologist estimated her care would cost up to $4 million. What could the parents do when she reached the limit? Bankruptcy? Let her die? Take her to emergency rooms for care as that great compassionate conservative George W. Bush suggested? According to Lurch all citizens had access to health care. Just go to an emergency room! But with leukemia?!

Actually Obamacare, passed in 2010, came to her rescue. It contained a provision that insurance companies could not set lifetime limits–and it went into effect September 1, 2011.

When It Comes To Health Care Americans Are Damn Fools

Although we are ranked 34th in the world in health care statistics and well below every civilized, industrialized European nation, we still have elected idiots on Capitol Hill screaming we have the best health care in the world. They attack Obamacare with the ferocity of hyenas attacking a zebra carcass. They scream “Socialized medicine” with drooling passion. Actually our health care system needs to be “socialized.”  

The American people are damn fools to fall for the unreality show and pay twice as much as any other country for third world health care.  In 2010 we spent $7,538 per capita, or 17.6 percent of our Gross National Product, to provide inadequate health care for 308 million people. Even with Obamacare it will take about another two or three years to add 30 million people to insurance rolls, still leaving about 20 million without any coverage—except for Lurch’s emergency rooms!  The average premium for family health insurance went up 9 percent this year to $15,073, with over $1,000 of that increase dedicated to paying for emergency room use by uninsured patients.

The Tragedy of “Amenable Mortality” And “Let Them Die”

France spends half as much as we do on health care, $3,696 per capita, covers everybody in the country, and has a complete health care system rated the best in the world by the World Health Organization. As evidence of care, my French brothers will live about four more years than we do on average. Is it wine or health care? While we haggle over mandates and constitutionality of Obamacare, over 45,000 fellow citizens die each year because they don’t have health insurance, with over 300 being Minnesota Viking fans. Research by the Commonwealth Fund indicates we rank 16th in “amenable mortality” (Deaths that are considered preventable by timely and effective care).

The Fund also has research proving that other industrialized countries have good national health care plans that provide better care than ours. None of these countries uses mandates that allow private insurers to charge different premiums for different people. The Commonwealth Fund evaluates countries on the basis of quality, efficiency, equity, and healthy lives. We rank well behind France, Canada, Germany, the Netherlands, New Zealand, and the United Kingdom in these five dimensions.

Meanwhile our drug companies are setting prices for drugs that will blow your mind. Seattle Genetics is selling the blood cancer drug Adcetris costing between $94,000 and $121,500 for total treatment. Dendreon Corp is peddling prostate cancer vaccine Provenge for $93,000 per course, but its effectiveness has been questioned. Bristol Myers Squibb Co. wants $120,000 for Yervoy, a total treatment for melanoma. Roche Holding tries to compete for the melanoma market with Zelboraf at $56,400. What a bargain. 

Now we have drug “scalpers” who buy huge lots of drugs, thus creating shortages in hospitals and clinics. Then they peddle them to hospitals at inflated prices. Want a blood pressure drug called Labetalol? Hospitals are now being charged up to $1,200 a dose. The dose cost $25 last year. Looks like everybody in the drug business has contracted Ronny and Nancy Traumatic Greed Disorder.

What Will The Republican Supreme Court Do With Obama’s Affordable Care Act?

The U.S. Supreme Court will decide sometime within the next year whether it is constitutional to mandate that a citizen buy health insurance. Circuit courts have come down on both sides. I thought one opinion was a little long on silliness. That court determined that people who do not wish to purchase health insurance are “inactive” and that Congress cannot regulate “inactivity!”  How many people who live a normal lifespan will never participate in any “health” program? Probably about the same number who thought they would have an eel travel through their penis to their bladder. We don’t live anymore in a society where the midwife chews off the umbilical cord, wraps the babe in swaddling clothes, and puts it in a cradle near the fireplace. If a child must be vaccinated against childhood diseases, is he “inactive?”  If you get smallpox and the authorities find out, the government mandates treatment to protect other members of society. If parents involved in some religions refuse to have a child treated because “prayer cures everything” the government can take the child and treat it.

Can The Government Force You To Buy Broccoli?  

Of course it can, but it probably won’t happen until the broccoli corporations outbid Wall Street banksters for the votes of congressmen who just love the vegetable. It’s not a fruit like tomatoes, is it? 

The big question in this lawsuit is whether the government can force everyone to buy health insurance or fine them if they don’t. I think the answer is pretty simple once you get the lawyers and judges out of the way. We can’t regulate a $2 trillion industry that affects everyone in the country?  People who don’t purchase health insurance impose costs on the rest of us, thus creating an extra charge for everyone who purchases insurance. I repeat: uninsured people using emergency rooms cost premium buyers another $1,000 this year. That’s a helluva lot of commerce. Get real.

Let’s look at a 44 cent mandate. Sometime in your life you must file some kind of federal income tax form whether you pay any taxes or not. The feds will often even provide the envelope, but not the stamp. Oh, I know you have a choice. You can drive that form to the closest regional office, say Kansas City or Oakland, and drop it off in the proper office. I think most people would pay the 44 cent mandate.

Federally Mandated Muskets As A Precedent

Let’s get serious. Over 220 years ago the federal government mandated that each family had to possess a firearm for its own protection and the protection of the community against enemies both foreign and domestic. Uncle Sam did not drop off a new musket at the door. The householder had to provide it. I suppose one could call it mandated personal life insurance. Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia has the philosophy that gun laws should be based on the musket instead of the AK-47. He’s an “originalist” along with the Socratic Clarence Thomas. Scalia and Thomas might even vote for real people in this court decision instead of corporations they helped turn into persons and human fund raisers not too long ago.

Let’s say you have a job that requires travel to other countries. In order to leave or enter the country a U.S. citizen must have a mandated passport. Passports cost money. My last one cost $65. Sure, you have a choice. Just tell your boss you can’t leave the country because you don’t want to purchase a federally mandated passport. I wish you luck with your job.

Is health care a privilege or a right? While our poor and middle class are living shorter and more debilitating lives, “The Best Health Care In The world” has enriched doctors, hospitals, and insurance companies. Our maternal death rate has doubled since 1990 to 13.3 deaths per 100,000 from 6.6.  The death rate for African-American women is 32.7, putting us in 40th place for maternal death rates in the world. For general health care we rank below our neighbor, Castro’s Cuba. Why should our citizens live in fear of being hospitalized? Why should half of the medical bankruptcies be filed by people who have health insurance? There are enough “tiny eel” or store parking lot shooting surprises in life. Providing universal health care for all citizens is absolutely necessary for an optimistic, confident, functioning society.