Wednesday, June 2, 2010

Immigration column

A couple of weeks ago, a reader called Hello, Butts County to inform us all that illegal immigration has destroyed the health-care industry in this country. I regret to inform you that the health-care industry in this country has, like many other institutions here, actually been destroyed from within by that good old byproduct of unregulated capitalism. Yes friends, I’m talking about greed.

I like telling stories, so here is one: A long time ago, around 1982, before things got so out of control, I went to a dentist. He was recommended to me by a teacher friend who told me that the dentist, a few weeks after doing work on his teeth, had actually given him money back, with the comment, “You can pay your union dues.”

So I went. Had work done. A little later, got money back. Huh? How’d that happen?

Here’s what was going on: Dr. So and So was charging 200 bucks for a root canal. Fair enough, but when he saw that my insurance company was willing to pay a maximum of 400 bucks, that’s what he billed them. He then split the extra two hundred bucks with me, as he had with my teacher friend before me, and who knows how many others. As far as I know, he wasn’t even breaking any laws. Since the insurance company was willing to pay that much, he was well within his rights to charge that much. What he did with the difference was up to him.

That was one little dentist in one little place in upstate New York, a small fish in a big pond. If you multiply him by thousands, or maybe even tens or hundreds of thousands of health-care professionals over the last 30 years, all billing the insurance companies for extra money, and then for extra services, the numbers increase exponentially.

Time passed. Insurance companies quickly began realizing that too much money was bleeding out of their hands, into the hands of the doctors and hospitals who were billing them for aspirin at the rate of 10 bucks a pill, sometimes, as well as five-dollar Band-Aids, 10,000 bucks for an overnight stay in a hospital, and so on. You get the picture. Insurance companies seemingly didn’t even look at the bills and ask, “Isn’t 10 bucks for an aspirin too much?” They just paid it, and passed the cost along to us later, like a store owner who has to raise prices to make up for shoplifters.

No one begrudges health-care professionals the right to earn a great living -- they work very hard to get where they are and they perform an important and life-saving service, but there is no law that says that the doctor always has to be the first guy on the block to have the yacht AND the Ferrari. At least not in his first year of practice.

Medical fraud is the biggest reason the health-care industry in this country has gone to the dogs. The doctors and hospitals (not all, of course, but some) overcharge the insurance companies. The insurance companies raise their premiums to keep their profit margins status quo and they raise their co-pays to ridiculous levels. Employers can’t afford to provide health insurance for free anymore, so they start taking the premiums out of your pay. Now you have less money for everyday living. It is all connected. Six degrees of fraud and deception.

Illegal immigration has nothing to do with it. While some illegal immigrants do seek and receive medical care here, they have nothing to do with the destruction of the health-care industry in the United States.

And you can take that to the bank (if your dentist is like mine was.)

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