Thursday, December 6, 2007

Travails of the Health Care System

It's been a rough month so far, but I'm not feeling sorry for myself. I'm learning quite a bit and it's a "growing experience," as my mother used to say.

Basically it started with discovering that my payroll service messed up on withholding taxes. This is really my responsiblity, so I can't entirely blame them.

Moving onto another unresolved matter, I realized that a drug and medical service discount card I ordered never came. No paperwork, no card, nothing. I called and emailed the online provider and they couldn't offer me any explanation, so I cancelled something I was being charged for -- but never received. Overall, I've had a good experience with the vendor -- -- but on this service they dropped the ball. I tried to use a free card offered through my county government, but the pharmacist wouldn't accept it, so I was forced to pay the obnoxious full retail price for a small amount of medicine my wife needed and antibiotics for my youngest daughter, who caught bronchitis. Since we have a high-deductible health insurance policy, the doctor's visit is out of pocket. The irony is, the only solution the health insurance industry has for reducing costs is to have those who were formerly insured for most costs pay more!

Then as I was trying to save a hundred dollars on medication today, I got a call from my credit card company. My wife and I learned that we were the victims of identity theft. Some rapacious soul got a hold of our credit card numbers and went on a shopping spree, charging more than $10,000 in merchandise. Of course, we're not responsible for paying for all of this, and we promptly shut down the account. Not a big deal, since this is the second time this has happened and our credit card company (Citicards) alerted us through a special program that tracks unusual spending patterns. It's just unnerving to be a victim -- again.

On top of that, my father-in-law, who has been gravely ill, went back into the hospital.

I'm not saying I'm snakebit. It's been a good year overall. I got a book deal (for another investment book I will co-author) I didn't expect, several paid speaking engagements (which I thoroughly enjoyed) and some prospects for other projects. I've been blessed and happy to be doing what I love.

Without too much introspection, I am, however, dumbstruck at how inefficient this whole system of moving health care dollars around has become. Since I'm a small business owner, I pay the highest rates for insurance, medicine, dental care and other items. Why can't we create one entity to buy health care services and drugs and offer discounts to everyone? Why create so many layers between us and the services we need?

Every middleman is going to demand something and things get lost in the process, like direct care and well being. If you're on your own, you have absolutely no purchasing clout. You're at the mercy of the kindness of strangers. I asked one of our dentists for a discount and he flatly said, "we don't discount, period." Several years ago when Blue Cross nailed us for paying for a surgical procedure by calling it a "pre-existing condition" (my daughter was born with this malady), the non-profit hospital that was busy building a posh new facility wouldn't reduce their full-retail bill by a dime.

There is always next year. If the economy doesn't go belly up, our candidates may be serious about creating an efficient health care system. I, for one, will be supporting the one with the best plan. I have a few ideas of my own.

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