Obamacare and Bad Chili

Kudos to Obamacare: I’m all for trying to make the U.S. health care system more like the ones in Switzerland or Massachusetts, which the bill that is currently going through Congress aims to do.

Yet, it won’t touch many of today’s systemic issues in the way that health care is provided to most Americans: at an exorbitant cost. Joe R. Lansdale satirized the system in Bad Chili, his 1997 “Texas Gothic” novel where Hap Collins, fresh from a stint on an offshore oil rig, comes home and gets bitten by a rabid squirrel.

“That insurance you got,” Doc Sylvan said. “We’re familiar with it. I made some calls to be sure. Sucks.”

“Which policy sucks?”

“Both of them. The oil rig policy will pay more in the long run, but it’s the short run that’s a bitch. The other policy seriously sucks the dog turd. You see, this is what they call outpatient business. You know, give you a shot, then you go home. Come back for an examination, another shot. You go home. But, if you go home, the policy has a five-hundred-dollar deductible.”

“It’s going to cost that much?”

“Time I get through, it may cost more. It’s not that it actually cost that much, but doing the shots here at the hospital makes it more expensive. And being a small city hospital, well, that gilds the lily.”

“Then why didn’t we do it at your office?”

“I told you why. Listen, what we’re gonna do is we’re gonna check you in for a few days here at the Medical Hilton.”

“Won’t that be more expensive?”

“Certainly. A lot more, but you do that, the offshore policy will pay eighty percent. The other policy will pay a bit.”

“The one that sucks the dog turd?”

“Right.”

“You mean to tell me the policy won’t pay I go to the house, but it will pay I stay in the hospital and it’ll cost more?”

“Now you got it figured. Between the two policies you come out only owing a few hundred bucks’ deductible. Policies might even overlap so you come out ahead, but I doubt it. You’ll owe something. It’s the way of the insurance and medical professions.”

“I think I’m being snookered a bit so you can make some extra insurance money, that’s what I think.”

“Considering you owe me a few past-due bills for a number of things, maybe you can live with that.”

“How long have I got to be in the hospital?”

“Way the policy works—”

“The offshore or the dog turd?”

“Both . . . I’d say seven or eight days.”

“Ah, hell. You’re kiddin’?”

“No, I’m not. You see, you take a shot now. Then you take one in seven days. That should be enough time to make sure the policy covers things. Those policies, way they’re written, you almost have to be standing on your head and get hit by lightning while trying to pick your nose with a pop bottle up your ass for them to pay. You got to get a better kind of policy, Hap. You know, a real one.”

“I get some real money, I’ll do that.”

“Anyway. One shot now. One in seven days, and one in twenty-one to twenty-eight days. You got a little option on the last shot. But not much. Thing about rabies, you miss those shots, you can kiss your ass good-bye.”

“I go to the hospital, I got to wear this damn gown all the time?”

“You play the game, you suit out.”

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