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THIS IS NOT A TEST with Michael Phillips

How’s your health (insurance)? THIS IS NOT A TEST #49 (transcript)

Published November 28, 2015 [Podcast link]

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Hello, hello, happy, happy, joy, joy, here we are again with THIS IS NOT A TEST, and here I am again, your humble servant Michael J. Phillips. I’m doing this late again, because I’m crazy. I’ve wasted two days working on a map for a website, a map that no one looks at and a map that’s already there, though it’s there as a clunky third-party piece of crap with advertising on it. So I wasted Thanksgiving day working on a new map, with a break to roast a turkey breast and eat and lay around. Then I got up today and said, “Okay, time to get to work on the podcast,” but I was still a little tired so I thought, well, I’ll just have some coffee here and plot out these last points on the map, then six hours went by and I still hadn’t taken a shower or worked on the podcast. So I thought maybe I’d read you another short story, you know, what with the holiday weekend and the eating and all of that. No one will care, right? It’ll be fine. I have a good story about Richie Havens here, it’s funny, I could just read it and be done. But I can’t, because there’s something else to talk about. There’s always something else to talk about, isn’t there? It’s because life is so rich and full and rewarding, it makes for a lot of good subject matter.

But I get latched on to something, like the map, and I can’t let go. I end up going down 50 or 60 rabbit holes and I come out on the other end wondering what the hell is wrong with me. Normal people just give up, right? Or set it aside and figure it out later. Problem is I have a dozen different things set aside for later and they all loom over me like a dark cloud of incompetence and unfinished business. I really need to get my shit together, man, this is no way to live a relaxing life, and I’m all about living a relaxing life. I need to put an end to the projects and the things and all the stuff I want to do that doesn’t matter. Or at least it isn’t important in the scheme of things. Everything matters I suppose. I can’t be the only one with these problems that I’ve created for myself, can I? Of course not. But I’m the only one living in this head, so I get to deal with it all. But enough about my particular personal madness, let’s get on with the show.

I’m friendly with my doctor, even though I think he’s somewhat incompetent. I’ve been seeing him for about 8 years, so we’re pals, but he’s never really helped me with anything. If I go in and say, “My shoulder, I can’t move it, here, look…” He says, “Hmmm…” and pulls on it and says, “Yeah, that’s called – whatever. Heisenblatt shoulder. I can give you a shot of cortisone but it probably won’t work. Do you want that?” And I think, well, he’s the doctor, if he’s got a shot…but he says it might not work…well, I should just do it anyway, so I do and it doesn’t work and he says, “Well, you’ve got insurance, right?” and he laughs and I laugh and I think, what the hell is this? Why do I have to figure out if I want some medical procedure? Why do I have to do my own care? Then a few weeks later I get the bill from his office, because my insurance doesn’t cover the $600 shot that didn’t work. Probably because the insurance company knew it wouldn’t work.

That sounds bad, I know, when I say I have to do my own care. I’m sure he’s a smart guy. It just seems like all he ever does is order blood tests. Before I met him I don’t know if I ever even had a blood test, though I suppose I must have at some point somewhere. But this guy, he loves blood tests, and when they come back he shows them to me and it’s all just numbers that don’t mean anything to me, so he says, “Well this is good, this is good, this is high normal…” And I’m like, “What the hell is ‘high normal’? Is it high or is it normal?” He says, “Well it’s on the high side of the normal range.” “So you’re saying it’s normal.” And he says, “On the high side of normal, yes.” I know he’s doing his job, but sometimes I think his job is to make me think I’m about to die. When I know I’m fine. Or what his job is really is probably finding things to bill me for, when nothing is really wrong. How much can my blood change every six months? Not much, I’d wager. I think he’d send me for a blood test every month if he thought he could get away with it.

When I first started going to see him, he said, “Well, you’re getting older, you should really do this heart test.” And I thought, a heart test? What’s that going to tell me? What good news can come from that? But I went and did it anyway, really early one morning. They stripped me down to my shorts and attached all these sensors to me and said, “Now go run on that treadmill until we tell you to stop.” Treadmill? I’m getting this test because I’m getting old, why do you want me to run on a treadmill? I don’t run anywhere, I walk at a leisurely pace. I did hard physical work and ran everywhere when I was young so that when I got to this age I could relax. But I got on the treadmill and started running, then they increased the incline so I was running up hill, and I said, “You guys are crazy, I can’t do this!” And they said, “Just a little longer, you can do it,” so I kept running and they increased the speed and I started to wonder if they were trying to give me a heart attack. But then I figured if I was going to have a heart attack, what better place to have it than in a hospital with a bunch of doctors and nurses around.

So they increased the speed and I kept running and my shins started to hurt, so I said, “My shins are starting to hurt,” and they said, “Just a little longer, you can do it,” then they increased the incline again. That went on for what seemed like 45 minutes, but it was probably only 10 or 15 minutes, I don’t know, I lost track of time as soon as they said “get on that treadmill and start running.” Eventually they stopped, and I got off the treadmill and stood there all sweaty and exhausted while they ripped all the sensors off me, and they kept saying, “You did great,” and I thought, this is someone’s job, torturing people and measuring how their bodies react. How long do you have to go to school for that? Then a few weeks later I go in to see my doctor, to get the results of the test, and for those few weeks I was thinking, “Well, this is it, buddy, you had a good run, he’s going to tell you you’re on the verge of death, and that’s it,” but I went in and he said, “The results of the test are pretty good, you’re fine.”

Ever since then, whenever he refers me to another doctor for some test, which he does every time I see him, I just throw the referral into the trash can on the way out of the office. Well, the first time he referred me I didn’t throw it away, I made the appointment and went to see some kind of butt doctor, because my doctor said, “you know, when you turn 50 you really need a colonoscopy,” so I listened to him and went to see the butt doctor. They took me into a waiting room, like they do, and I sat there for half an hour. I went out into the hallway and said, “Hey, what’s up, I’ve been in there forever.” And they said, “Oh, sorry, Dr. Whoever is running late, he’ll be right with you,” so I went back in the room and waited for another 45 minutes. Just waiting in there, looking at the walls and thinking. Looking out the window, waiting, waiting. After 45 minutes I went out again and there was no one around, so I walked out to the reception desk and said, “I’ve been waiting in there for hours, what the hell…” and the woman, said, “Oh! You’ve been waiting back there? I’m so sorry, Dr, Whatever got called to an emergency, he’s gone for the day. Do you want to reschedule?” No, I think I’ll pass.

I don’t know what I expect of doctors, but in my run ins with them I’m usually left feeling like I’ve been had, and I don’t know any more about what’s wrong with me than I did before I waited for half an hour in a room full of sneezing, coughing people to see them. I tore ligaments in my elbow a dozen or so years ago, and I paid a doctor $800 to tell me that the ligaments were torn, and to inform me that there wasn’t anything they could do and I just had to wait for it to heal. Why see me for torn elbow ligaments when you know there’s nothing that can be done for them? Because that’s just how it works, man. A year or so ago I temporarily forgot how to walk after about half a bottle of Wild Turkey and I fell on something hard and unforgiving and it tore up my wrist. Which is fine, torn up skin is easy to fix in your own bathroom, but the wrist stayed swollen for a couple weeks, so I went to an emergency room near the house to get it checked out. I could have made an appointment with my doctor and waited two more weeks, which I probably should have, considering all the good it did me to go to the hospital. They x-rayed my wrist and said it was fine and then sent me a bill for a thousand dollars.

I’m not sure why I go to doctors at all, really. I never did when I was younger. I got injured or sick just as often – well, I probably got injured a lot more often – I just never told a doctor about any of it. And look, I survived. I’m only talking about my doctor because I think I’ve seen him for the last time because my insurance is changing. It’s changing because what the cost of the insurance I’ve had for the past, almost 10 years, just more than doubled. It always goes up a little every year of course, but this year I got the renewal paper at work and my payment went from $274 a month to $648.19 a month. That’s after the company pays for part of it. And what’s the nineteen cents for? $648.19 a month. Almost $8,000 a year. Carol’s got her own insurance, but she used to be on mine, and I can only imagine what that number would have been for both of us. And I make an okay amount of money, what does someone who makes 30 grand a year do with an insurance premium like that?

Ah, well, when you’re younger you pay less for insurance. The insurance companies will tell you that’s because younger people require less medical services, but that’s just some bullshit they throw out there as justification. Your taxes and social security payments are the same whether you’re 20 years old or 100 years old. They’re based on how much income you have. Or how much you tell the government you have. The insurance companies charge more the older you get because people typically make more money as they get older and they tend to take on more responsibility, so naturally they’re going to feel that their need for insurance is greater. That’s just how it goes. I think I’m paying for four kinds of insurance right now. Health, yes, car, of course, renter’s insurance and what else? Oh, life insurance. That one is definitely a tax on older people, because no 20 year old needs a god damn life insurance policy. But at least I voluntarily pay that. Along with the renter’s insurance.

But if you want to drive or file taxes you can’t be uninsured. You have to have car insurance to renew your registration or license, and now, apparently you have to prove that you have health insurance when you file your taxes. You know, technically. I didn’t always have car insurance when I was younger and there are some perils and pitfalls that go along with that, a lot of which I experienced first hand. I think if you don’t have medical insurance now the government just fines you or something. I’m not sure how much it is, but I’ll bet it’s less than $648.19 a month. And I know that requirement to have insurance now is exactly why the premiums are doubling and tripling. The insurance companies must have thought they won the lottery when the health insurance requirement went through. They used to argue that they spent a lot of money treating uninsured people, and that the rest of us paid for that through higher premiums, But if that was true, how can it cost more now to cover everyone with insurance? It can’t. It’s just magic insurance company mathematics.

Insurance as a thing is huge scam, and I’m sure the guys who invented it are heralded as geniuses and heroes by the people who sell it to us now. They probably have one day every year where they stand around a cake and look at pictures of those guys and drink champagne. Think about it, you’re paying a company a lot of money in case some tragedy befalls you. If there’s no tragedy, you’ve wasted your money. And even if there is a tragedy, they’re going to make it difficult for you to collect. It’s like a casino, the house always wins. If you have a chronic condition and you have some insurance that pays for most of your treatment, I suppose you’re beating the house. Or at least you’re coming out ahead. For me it would be hard to think of something medical that I spend $8,000 a year on, so it’s just madness and the wonder and glory of the free market. Only it’s not really a free market since the insurance companies and their stockholders own the politicians, and the politicians are the only ones who could put an end to the game. Or at least make the game more fair.

We’re so great here in America, if you’re a corporation or a stockholder or otherwise in the top tiers of society. If you’re not, you may as well live in Haiti or India for all the government cares about you. The politicians follow the money, because that’s what politicians do. But when I look around the world at great countries that actually do care about the people who live in them I don’t see anyone paying for health care, and usually not for education, the two main things that will bankrupt you here in this wonderful country. “But mjp, the doctors, they have to make money!” Do they? Do they have to make so much money? Does a hospital have to make a profit? Why? because shareholders, man! It all comes back to the glorious stock market. Another fixed game where the small percentage of players take home all the dough. They take home all the dough by convincing people like you and me that we should invest in companies, because everyone has the god given inalienable right to make money doing nothing. Return on investment, man, you’ve got to get you some of that. Work is for suckers.

So I canceled my health insurance through work and I’m using some low budget insurance that I get through another source. Through a union I happen to be part of. It costs me one dollar a month. How do they do that? I don’t know. Bargaining power I suppose, and the union must pay for most of the coverage. You know, as a country we have that same bargaining power with drug companies, but the politicians made laws against using that power, because the drug companies who finance the politicians told them to do that. Anyway, I haven’t used the new insurance yet, but I know it’s not as “good” as my previous insurance. That’s what my previous insurance company would tell me anyway. “Not as good,” is code for “you’ll have to go to a poor person’s doctor,” which is okay by me. I was poor person for much of my life, so I’m at home with poor people. When they say the insurance is not as good, they can’t be talking about cost or what the insurance covers, because like I mentioned, pretty much every time I went to a doctor when I had “good” insurance, I ended up paying hundreds of dollars anyway.

But that tragedy…that looming horrible accident, you’ve got to be ready for that. You’ve got to have insurance. Years ago, when we lived down in San Pedro, we had to park our cars on the street. And one night someone came along in a big pickup truck and accordioned my poor old Honda Accord. The cops came and said, “Well, we’ll probably never find the other driver, but you have insurance, right?” And I said, yeah, and when I called AAA the next day they said, “Yeah, you have insurance, but not for that particular thing. If you got the license plate number maybe…” Right, in the middle of the night in a rainstorm after I heard the crash I went out into the street and ran behind the truck speeding away and jotted down the number on the notepad I keep in the pocket of my pajamas. Sure. So we have these various insurances to fix us up after a tragedy, but they usually don’t. I can only imagine if I was in a bad car accident, with all of my insurance when it was all over with I’d probably come away with half the cost of my car and half of my hospital bills paid. I’d still be fucked, just slightly less fucked.

So I don’t know why I do it. I don’t know why I pay these things every month. It seems insane. But like we’ve already established at the beginning of this, I’m crazy, so what can I do? The only insurance I really care about is the life insurance, to take care of Carol if I drop dead or am crushed by a falling piano or anvil. But I’m sure the dirt will still be fresh on my grave and they’ll be telling her she’s not getting anything because there was a falling piano clause that I missed, or an anvil falling from the sky is an act of god, and that’s not covered. I know that, but I still send them hundreds of dollars every month. I don’t even want to add up what I spend on insurance every month because it would just make me mad. I don’t send my mother hundreds of dollars every month, or put hundreds of dollars into a safe in my closet. But I send it to those fuckers. Yes, yes, the world is quite mad, friends, quite mad.

You know, that whole, “work is for suckers” thing, where everyone believes they are entitled to make a profit for putting a pile of money somewhere, that’s probably a bigger problem than insurance. It worked when very few people invested in those stocks, it was like a happy little money factory, but when they tell you that everyone can profit that way, they’re selling you a spot in a Ponzi scheme. Everyone can’t profit on everything. Every line on every graph doesn’t go consistently higher forever, on to infinity. I’m not sure where that idea comes from, the idea that we’re entitled to sit back in a La-Z-Boy recliner and watch our money magically increase itself. That’s a pretty recent development in human history. I know my people didn’t come up with it. We were always working for someone else, trying to keep our shit together. But there’s always someone, somewhere who’s getting over on the system, and you look at them and think, “Why the hell am I busting my knuckles every day? Look at that guy!”

But I don’t blame them, because I think it’s human nature to not want to work. This drive to work came from those fucking puritans and look what good it did them. How many puritans do you know? None, because they’re all dead. But we still work under one variation or another of their ridiculous and outlandish ideas. Work hard and prosper. Sure. I like Mr. Spock’s Vulcan credo: live long and prosper. Nothing in there about work. The Vulcans just flew around in space picking up alien chicks and death-gripping suckers. The closest thing we have to puritans now are Amish people, and they’re hardly prospering. If you’re Amish and you get a toothache, the Amish dentist just pulls out all of your teeth, and fits you with some Amish dentures that they order from a catalog. I might have just talked shit about doctors, but I’ll never talk shit about my dentist, He’s a pro.

And speaking of working hard and prospering, we’re only a few weeks away from episode number 52 here, and that means I’ll have been doing this for a year. It might not seem like hard work, but I still think I’m going to give myself a Christmas present and reign this thing back to an episode every two weeks. Not because I don’t have anything to talk about, but because, like I said, I’m all about relaxing. And if I do this every other week, that will leave me more time to make it better, right? Funnier, more snappy and insightful. Um hm. Even if I add a week to the schedule, I’ll probably still work on it the day it has to go out, but the rest of time I can be relaxing. Or working on maps that no one looks at, or some other thing that’s got me standing around pissing away my dwindling time here on earth. Rather than pissing it away here with you. Not that I don’t enjoy our time together. I’m like Mr. Rogers, man, I’m glad we had this time together. Or was that Carol Burnett? One of those two. They were both glad to see you, just like I am. Just, you know, not quite as often. That being said, I’ll be back here next week. Where will you be?