Gary Hubbell: The Redneck Tree-hugger | AspenTimes.com

Gary Hubbell: The Redneck Tree-hugger

Gary Hubbell

I hear the pundits and the politicians on both sides of the issue of health care and universal coverage, and everybody has good points. Conservatives say we have the best health care system in the world, and no one is denied care.

Oh, really?

How about my friend Jack, who was recently struck by lightning? Times are bad for him anyway – he’s living in his truck, so obviously he can’t afford health insurance. He was suffering from blurred vision and disorientation from the lightning strike, and after four days, walked into an emergency room. They turned him away, saying he was not suffering from an emergency condition.

What about my friend Jerry? He knew something was wrong in his intestines, but waited six months until the health insurance from his new job took effect. By then the cancer had spread from his colon to his liver and stomach, and he died a painful, ultimately much more expensive death because he didn’t get care when he needed it.

Liberals say health care is a right, not a privilege, and that the government should provide an option that will force private companies to offer competitive rates. Right – you’ve done such a good job with Social Security, Medicare and any other government program you care to mention.

We the people have seen how the government runs the biggest entitlement programs, and that’s why you’re seeing a popular uprising against the idea of universal health care.

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The real crux of the matter is that doctors run their business like a bunch of half-wits. I mean, they’re still writing illegible prescriptions on paper pads. Insurance companies are, of course, the devil incarnate, and their goal is to make as much money as possible by denying as many claims as possible. The waste and inefficiency of our current system has forced the issue.

You want health care reform? Okay, let’s start with this: Let’s build a universal computer system that has everyone’s medical records in a legible digital format. I can send you a real estate contract in a PDF file and you can sign it with a computer mouse and e-mail it back to me, and it’s a legally binding contract, which is stored online. Why can’t we do the same with medical records and billing?

My son complained of soreness in his knee, so I took him to an orthopedist in Grand Junction. I filled out the same exact information by hand on four different sets of forms. That means four different droids entering that info into four different systems – an incredible waste of resources. We ultimately paid the bill with our own funds, but that didn’t keep the paperwork from churning through the insurance system for six months.

Recently I felt like I might have had some colon issues. Keeping in mind Jerry’s experience and the fact that my cousin had just died of colon cancer at age 51, I decided to get checked out. Knowing that I would be paying, I called around to internists to get rates for a colonoscopy. When I asked for rates, the silence on the other end was stunning. Most of them didn’t know where to begin. I asked them to e-mail me a quote. Most offices DIDN’T EVEN HAVE E-MAIL. I’m not kidding.

No wonder our health care costs escalate 16 percent a year. They have to keep cutting down forests and building more warehouses and hiring more droids to keep track of all the paper.

Tying health insurance to employment doesn’t make sense and never has. By now everyone should be aware that health insurance was a perk added to wages in the 1940s during WWII, when wage and price controls were in place. It was a reaction to an artificial constraint on the market. What happens if you leave your job? It’s clear that most people will change jobs several times over four decades of work – why tie health insurance to employment?

And then there are the lawyers. When I watched my son’s birth, 15 years ago, I was struck that it was more of a legal procedure than a birth. The nurses kept scribbling notes in a frantic effort to defend the hospital from a possible lawsuit. My uncle, an OB/GYN, has a reputation as one of the finest practitioners in California – he’s delivered 10,000 babies. He’s also been sued three times for malpractice and, against his wishes, the insurance companies paid nearly $1.3 million. The biggest award went to a meth-using woman who had a baby with cerebral palsy.

You want health care reform? Start with tort reform, then streamline the record-keeping and billing systems. Open up state regulations so that any fiscally sound company can offer coverage in any state. Prohibit them from denying coverage to any person, and enable people to transfer coverage from one company to another. Build in a set of risk/reward tables, so if you’re a druggie, a smoker or obese, then you pay more because you’re a higher risk. Other than lifestyle choices, pre-existing conditions don’t exist. Strip health insurance from employment, and to provide an incentive to participate, give a tax credit to those who participate – and tax those who don’t. That’ll make those unwashed millions who don’t pay income tax finally contribute something to their own well-being. And the government? Keep the sorry bastards out of it.

Gary Hubbell, a western Colorado native, is a location scout for photo shoots and films; a former outfitter and fly-fishing guide; and a ranch real estate broker. You can contact him at aspenranchrealestate.com.