By Calvin Palmer
Health care reform is the hot topic of the moment. In Jacksonville, the Letters Page of The Florida Times-Union is full of the concerns of the I’m-doing-very-nicely-thank-you-very-much Ponte Vedra brigade.
Many of these “worldly-wise” letters pour scorn on the health system of my native country, the United Kingdom. Isn’t it odd that it served me well for 47 years and I never once had to pay a bill of £2,000 following any surgical procedure, nor did my parents?
My father owned a small business and is a life-long Conservative Party voter, but I have never once heard him criticize the National Health Service. I guess that would make him a “socialist” in the eyes of Republicans.
I had to pick up three prescriptions from CVS last night. Given my wicked sense of British humor, mischievous at times, I decided to have a bit of fun. Think Sacha Baron Cohen and Borat, but without the central European accent.
The pharmacy assistant was a girl in her late teens or early twenties, more likely than not attending college to gain her pharmacy degree. I will call her Britney to spare her any embarrassment.
Britney asked me for my name and eventually presented me with my prescriptions and then stuck the paper strips accompanying each prescription on the HIPAA sheet.
For UK readers, the HIPAA Privacy Rules introduced in 2003 restrict the disclosure of Private Health Information and guarantee patient confidentiality.
I duly signed the form and asked Britney if I was signing to become subject to the “death panels” — the Republican scaremongering begun by Sarah Palin in an attempt to derail President Obama’s health care reforms.
“Oh no,” Britney assured me.
“I don’t want to have to answer to one of those communist death panels,” I said. “I can’t be doing with communist death panels.”
“People between 15 and 40 aren’t covered by the death panels. They can get any treatment they need.”
“You’ve got to watch these communists. You are not a communist, are you?”
“No,” Britney replied. “I attended a Tea Party on Saturday and doctors there were saying people between the age of 15 and 40 are all right but the government will decide what treatment the rest can have.”
The Tea Party is a group of ultra conservatives who object to the taxation system in the United States and I would imagine it numbers the Ponte Vedra brigade among its staunchest supporters. The group objects to income tax, favoring sales tax as a fairer system of taxation. By “fairer” members of this group mean paying less tax.
If the Tea Party were to ever hold the reins of power in the United States, they would only just stop short of the reintroduction of slavery, but only just.
While big government, the feckless and workshy are roundly condemned with the kind of a fervor last seen at political rallies held in Nuremberg in the 1930s, these people, if given the chance, will readily exploit any loopholes to avoid paying Uncle Sam what is rightfully his. Greed and self-interest are their watchwords.
As I walked away from the pharmacy counter, I grinned to my American wife. She thought the exchange with Britney was incredibly funny and had found it difficult to keep a straight face.
But my grin soon faded at the mental replay of Britney’s comments.
“That is frightening,” I said. “She honestly believes this nonsense about death panels. And even worse, it is being perpetuated by doctors.”
My wife gave a deep sigh. “I know.”
What hope is there for America, if highly-educated and professional people fall easy prey to lies and disinformation?
It would appear those lies have taken root and, in some circles, have become the accepted “truth”, whipped up by the near hysteria of the ultra right who now dominate the Republican Party.
The sickness pervading political debate in the United States is clearly getting to the point beyond healing; in fact, contrary to their red-white-and-blue patriotism, the extreme right would prefer that the patient die.
In an opinion piece in yesterday’s edition of The New York Times, columnist and Nobel Prize winner Paul Krugman wrote about health care reform and concluded: “Actually turning this country around is going to take years of siege warfare against deeply entrenched interests, defending a deeply dysfunctional political system.”
His pessimistic note is one that I share after last night’s brief encounter with Britney at the CVS pharmacy.