Nutter Bill and Me: Part I – A Chance Encounter
I met Bill a couple of weeks ago at a health care demonstration in South Bend, Indiana. I was waiting to cross the street when a rotund, older gentleman in khaki shorts and a tucked, striped polo sidled up to me. He asked me if I was in from Indianapolis. “No,” I said, “I live here in town.” “Are you in favor of reform?” he asked innocuously. “Yes, sir, I am” I replied. Without missing a beat, he fired back, “What are you, a communist, or a fascist?”
Now, if I had my wits about me, I would have responded with the appropriate, “What are you, an asshole?” Instead I responded with the more diplomatic, “No, I’m an American.” This set Bill aback. It was obvious from his questioning where he stood on the issue. In his eyes, anybody who wanted health care reform was hell bent on destroying the very fabric of America. In his mind, I was a Kool-aid drinking traitor, selling his country out for free health care. I had to be! There was no other explanation for everything he read and heard told him that it’s so! For me to appeal to his patriotic sensibilities, and to remind him that I had First Amendment rights too, was like Short Round snapping Indiana Jones out of his Thuggee trance with a lit torch. Suddenly, he wanted to talk.
We crossed the street together to discuss the issue at hand. He started by telling me that he was a recently retired insurance agent who handled many forms of insurance, including the health variety, and had seen just about everything. It was his contention that the only way to reform health care was to reform frivolous malpractice lawsuits, a/k/a tort reform.
He shared a story of a client who was in a catastrophic accident. According to Bill, she was never going to be able to work again. The timing of the accident was such that the necessary paperwork, ie., hospital forms, police reports, doctor’s reports, etc., didn’t get to the insurance company in a timely manner, and she wasn’t sure if they were going to cover her or not.
Now, I could have stopped him right there, but I didn’t because I wanted to hear him out. It was obvious to me that the lawsuit was the product of private insurer bureaucracy. If we had single payer, the medical bill would be paid without the need for upfront administration or the worry of possibly being denied coverage. Late paperwork does not come into the equation in single payer. Immediate care does and woman would be covered regardless. As such, there would be no need to sue! Tort reform via single payer health care! But, like I said, I left it alone because I wanted to hear the story.
While she lay in a hospital, waiting for an answer from her insurer, a lawyer came knocking. “He’s a very famous lawyer,” Bill said. “I’m sure you’ve heard of him. He’s on the cover of your phone book.” She retained this attorney and he proceeded with her complaint. In defense of the complaint, the insurance company offered a settlement of $100,000, to which the attorney declined. This $100,000 settlement game of offer and decline drags on and months pass. One random day, the attorneys talk. The same settlement is offered, and out of the blue, the injury attorney accepts. “Why did the attorney suddenly accept the settlement?” Bill asks. “He accepted the settlement because he used up the retainer, that’s why.” Bill argues that these frivolous lawsuits, engineered by greedy attorneys, are the only reason health care is out of control.
He tells me that 30% of an insurance company’s costs come from defending lawsuits. I challenge him on administrative, marketing, and compensation costs of the private insurer being just as expensive, if not more. He contends that those costs do not have as big an effect on costs as I think they do. I say I’m not going to challenge him. I’m smart enough to know that he has been in the business and has experience that I do not. I concede that there are greedy, scumbag attorneys in this world and that there are just as many fraud patients taking advantage of the system for profit. However, I do not believe that a cap on medial lawsuits can be a good thing, simply because, a cap negatively affects individuals that may have a legitimate claim. Conversely, a cap protects doctors that, in some cases, should lose their shirt. Also, I personally do not believe stopping ridiculous lawsuits is going to make private insurers suddenly cover pre-existing conditions or prevent them from dropping coverage at will.
I continue by explaining why I am hanging out on this corner with a bunch of strangers, showing support for reform. “I’m here because I want choice,” I tell him. I explain that I have a great job with excellent benefits, benefits that I wouldn’t trade with anybody. However, I want a public option because right now, I don’t have a choice. Sure, I have a choice of plans, but I don’t have a choice of providers. I believe that a public option will, through competition, make care better for all. Chances are I wouldn’t immediately choose the public option. However, should the public option prove to be better than what I have, then I would most certainly switch. Those are my selfish reasons. As for the big picture, I wish for everybody in this country to have a healthy life, without having to worry about what will happen to them if they get sick. I would also like to see those that are sick get the care that they are presently denied.
Bill says, “That’s what they want too,” and points to the anti-reform protest across the street. I look and see that they are angry. They’re chanting “kill the bill” and “vote no, or you will go!” Everything, from the brooding older woman with the bullhorn marching up and down the curb to the signs with giant “NO!” indicate that they are only interested the total destruction of what they call “Obamacare.” This position is also known as the status quo. The biggest irony, of course, is the fact that with a few exceptions, every one of them were a few short years away from Medicare, if they weren’t collecting it already.
My face must have shown my disapproval because Bill then begins to ask me if I know anybody else here. I say no and that I came by myself. He says, “The SEIU bussed a lot of these people in from Indianapolis. They’re being paid to be here. Talk about Astroturf.” I’m not buying it and let him know this fact. Even if it is true, so what? It’s not a town hall for constituents. It’s the intersection of Main and Colfax. Anybody can come up here and voice their support, or disapproval, of health care reform.
The conversation quickly devolves from there as Bill starts in on birther nonsense. I tell him that I’ve read all about it and it’s not true. “That’s what the main stream media would have you believe,” he says not knowing what I read. “You’re not reading the right things,” he says. “Like what?” I challenge. “Redstate? World Net Daily?” “No, no. There are a lot of good sources that you just don’t get from the traditional places.” I know this is true, but my good source is not the same as his good source. He attempts to enlighten me with a new birther theory about Obama’s suspect college applications, but I’m just not having it, and decide that it’s time to go.
I politely ask him his name. I tell him my name, shake his hand, and wish him well. As I walk away, he says, “Just be careful who you associate yourself with,” and motions to the individuals he accused of being SEIU plants. I respond by saying, “I’m fully aware of who I associate with, and I’m proud of it.”
Finally, got my wits going.
You can visit Andrew T. Mason’s blog, Andrew T. is on the Cut.