Pay to Play
Thursday, July 16, 1998
My doctor died last week, which was no huge surprise, given that he was 99 years old and had been chain smoking since he was old enough to light a cigarette.
Dr. Cephalo Mollusk wasn''t what you''d call a good doctor in his waning years--his hands shook, sometimes violently, and his mind had deteriorated to the point that he could no longer recall what drugs cured which ailments, leaving his equally ancient secretary to look up most prescriptions in a home remedy book.
But he was my doctor, dammit, and that''s something, right? Anyway, I''m now shopping around for a new doctor amid the cast of hundreds, and wondering why the hell people are so hung up on our "right" to choose your doctors. Personally, I''d be pretty relieved right now if someone just assigned me a doctor.
Just voicing that sentiment would be considered downright blasphemous by Monterey County employees, who are outraged that the new county health plan might actually limit their choice of doctors.
I can''t find the "right to choose our doctors" in my copy of the Constitution, but it must be there, probably printed in bold letters in some hallowed corner of the document. Last time I wrote about health care, the choicers showered me with letters, and their rhetoric dominated the last Board of Supervisors hearing on the matter.
Sometimes, I think people who are comfortable or even well-off are just jealous of the down-and-outs, who have such a plethora of real things to complain about and rights-denied to decry. And if you ask me, "right to see a doctor" ought to come above "right to choose whatever doctor we want" in our list of societal imperatives.
Unfortunately, while everyone in the county''s Family Support Division expresses outrage at not being able to choose their endocrinologist, the poor folk of this state and country continue to get the shaft. Just look at the papers, and read between the lines.
A couple weeks ago, the California State Health and Welfare Agency began trumpeting its new Healthy Families Program, meant to provide access to health care for more than one million low-income children in California who previously had none. That''s good, right? Poor people getting medical coverage, albeit without absolute choice.
Then the same week, I read that the HMOs nationwide are pulling out of Medicare and MediCal, ending their service to the poor and elderly, and funneling poor folks back onto waiting lists for overworked public health clinics. That''s not so good, and it gets worse the more it rolls over and over in my squidly brain.
It''s great the state is launching its "most sweeping health care initiative ever," but if half the country''s 32 million Medicaid recipients are among those already, or soon to be, cut from HMOs, who are the Healthy Family doctors gonna help, exactly?
Squid needed more details, so I investigated the fine print. Turns out the Healthy Families Program will offer subsidized health care to kids from low-income families that make too much for MediCal, but still have to squeak by at no more than 200 percent of the federal poverty level.
The ones in trouble now are children from families living at less than the federal poverty level, especially if they have the bad luck to belong to a managed care program. So it''s the really poor kids who won''t get medical care, let alone choice. Now that makes sense.
But at least they can take consolation from the thought that if they ever do get health insurance, there''s a bunch of folks fighting to ensure they can pick whatever doctor they want, no matter what the cost.
It Happens (Sometimes)
Speaking of that which floweth downhill, the Monterey Regional Water Pollution Control Agency is in the process of filing liens against property owners who haven''t paid for sewer services.
A total of 1,694 delinquent accounts owing almost $350,000 have until Aug. 1 to settle up, or face additional charges on their property tax bills, according to Agency Manager of Finance Tom Buell.
At the time of the MRWPCA''s filing notice and publishing in a major daily on July 10, big and small doo-doers (listed alphabetically) included The Cannery Row Co., which owes $1,963.73, the Central Coast YMCA, $2,143.81; Community Housing Improvement, $3,293.84; the biggest debtor listed, Holman Building Associates, $4,099.35; and the Marina Beach Inn, Inc. $2,528.34.
Buell informed Squid his agency won''t shut off service to customers who are behind on their payments, a relief to all us marine dwellers who don''t want to see our home turned into any more of an aquatic midden than it has already become.