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May-02-2013 13:24printcomments

A Study in Compassionate Socialism... Three For The See-saw

F. Scott Fitzgerald: Ernest, the rich are much different from us. Ernest Hemingway: Yes, I know. They have more money.

Three on a see-saw

(DAYTONA BEACH, FL) - Editorial note: Some time ago, Al Gore's television network, Current TV, ran an hour- long feature billed as a hard-hitting bit of investigative journalism. It wasn't. It was amateurish, poorly paced with incompetent interviews, a lack of continuity and excess repetition. Nevertheless, "Under the Knife Abroad,” in spite of itself, succeeded in making a strong statement that has escaped our gridlocked politicians, preoccupied with the meaningless debate about our disgraceful health care system. The simple fact is that “Medical Tourism” is a burgeoning industry, to our national shame.

Here in the United States, for the past 50 years – perhaps 75 – Presidents, Presidents' wives, Senators, Congressmen, insurance company and pharmaceutical company johnnies, administrators, doctors, lawyers, Indian chiefs and talk-show junkies (not to mention most of the other 300-odd million interested parties) have been debating, legislating, filibustering, committeeing, resoluting and presidentially campaigning over the single subject of proper medical and hospital care for the richest 1/20th of the world's population.

Result? We have a farcical system which – since 2011 – the Administration and the Democrats (God knows why) have been bragging about, while the Republicans are busy trying to trash, or at best make worse. It is a system which paradoxically is the most expensive health care program of any country in the world, while ranking about #47 as to effectiveness and delivery among something called “civilized” nations. Stated another way, we have the best health care in the world, but only the moderately wealthy can afford it.

We are the proud nation that boasts Johns Hopkins, the Mayo Clinic and the New England Journal of Medicine, not to mention a Nobel Laureate in Medicine every year or two. We also have a medical monster the cost of which is spiraling upward at a predictable rate that is on course to strangle our economy, and with it our kids' and grandkids' lives, liberties and probably sanity. Meanwhile, we have at the same time splendid hospital facilities, most of which yawn empty, simply because, like Yogi Berra's legendary restaurant, they are so excellent that nobody can afford to go there.

There is a simple little solution to all of this paradoxical nonsense, which for some reason nobody among the experts, medics and politicians who have agonized over the medicare nightmare all these years has appeared to consider, much less mention:

    It is simply that an adequate, even superlative universal health care system DOES NOT NEED INSURANCE AND PHARMACEUTICAL COMPANIES CREAMING BILLIONS OFF THE TOP.

It doesn't even need that sacred American invention, the HMO. And it certainly as hell doesn't need the barnacle-like cluster of tertiary hustlers, free enterprisers and other leeches hanging around the fringes of

the system offering to give away mobile scooter chairs (provided Medicare pays for them), diabetic supplies, “supplementary” benefits and complimentary paperwork, all of which profit handsomely by populating a fibrosis of unnecessary service sub-industries.

But break my heart for I must hold my tongue. Why? Because any time I mention this treasonous line to any group of my fellow Americans, be they entrepreneurs, working stiffs, Wall Streeters or unemployed hamburger flippers, I get the same evil eye, as if I were Lee Harvey Oswald or Julius Rosenberg.

“Why,” they gasp, repeating the national catechism, “THAT'S SOCIALISM!”

Nobody, from Rush Limbaugh to Maria Bartiromo, has ever explained (at least to my satisfaction) why employing social capital to build interstate autobahns from La Jolla to Martha's Vineyard is not socialism, or why spending $750 billion annually to send aircraft carriers on perpetual world cruises to keep us safe from a few ragheads living in caves is not socialism, or why a domestic budget currently going in the red at a trillion and a half or so a year is not socialism. But accomplishing a simple universal device to take care of the health of the citizenry, as many much poorer nations do routinely - THAT'S socialism.

In a sane society – but never mind, because this is anything but - people might pay a little heed to the powerful simplicity demonstrated by some countries to which a few of our citizens have discovered they can journey, have medical procedures done and return for a fraction of the cost of having it done at the hospital around the corner. South Africa, most of western Europe, Thailand.

Let me instead describe an insane society, with an episode I call "Three For The See-saw:"

In recent memory, three close friends of mine - all three younger than me, as a matter of fact - from central Florida to the Texas Panhandle, those twin book-ends of free enterprise straddling the British Petroleum'd Gulf of Mexico, (which is enough to make anybody sick), were hospitalized, spent five to six weeks each in the finest of emergency and intensive care units, and all three never came out alive, although their account statements did – each of the three totaling more than $300,000.

None of my three friends, nor their families, nor their heirs, estates or assigns, could even think about paying such a ludicrous bill. So they didn't.

Somebody did, of course, or at least absorbed the hit – the American taxpayers.

Now THAT'S socialism.


Bill Annett grew up a writing brat; his father, Ross Annett, at a time when Scott Fitzgerald and P.G. Wodehouse were regular contributors, wrote the longest series of short stories in the Saturday Evening Post's history, with the sole exception of the unsinkable Tugboat Annie.

When he was 18, Bill's first short story was included in the anthology “Canadian Short Stories.” Alarmed, his father enrolled Bill in law school in Manitoba to ensure his going straight. For a time, it worked, although Bill did an arabesque into an English major, followed, logically, by corporation finance, investment banking and business administration at NYU and the Wharton School. He added G.I. education in the Army's CID at Fort Dix, New Jersey during the Korean altercation.

He also contributed to The American Banker and Venture in New York, INC. in Boston, the International Mining Journal in London, Hong Kong Business, Financial Times and Financial Post in Toronto.

Bill has written six books, including a page-turner on mutual funds, a send-up on the securities industry, three corporate histories and a novel, the latter no doubt inspired by his current occupation in Daytona Beach as a law-abiding beach comber. You can write to Bill Annett at this address:

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