One Last Hurdle to Health Care

From the latest Bar Room Writers Offensive on 4/17/2010, a choice for those interested. This time, you can read my story (see below) or listen to it through the magic of tiny digital recorders (see belower). For those who listen to the audio track, you get the added bonus of listening to 25 seconds of me silently wrestling a mummy for my story.

Thanks as always to Barca for the hospitality, Dan for being the face and pouring arm of said hospitality, Phil Petrocelli for taking care of the sound, Soultheft Records, and Doug Nufer, Mortimur K, Cristien Storm, and Eric Greenwalt for sharing the same table.

And with that...

One Last Hurdle to Health Care

It’s so exciting to be here on the edge of adequate, affordable health coverage in the United States. I think everybody here can really be proud of what they’ve done and all the work they’ve put into this. What we do here this evening is a single pebble dropped into a calm pond, and those reverberations of that tiny pebble will resonate for generations to come.

Kind of a beautiful image, isn’t it?

Anyway, all we’ve got to do is roll up our proverbial shirt sleeves, put on your actual ski masks, sprint across this parking lot, ignore the woman with the bullhorn telling us that we’re making a terrible mistake, then avoid getting snagged in the razor wire. At that point, you just need to throw a trashcan through those glass doors, overwhelm the trained Blackwater contractors with your rudimentary karate skills, and drag the last insured people in all of Seattle out of that Starbucks and beat the living coverage out of them. Because, once those green aprons have been subjected to the horrors of freeform mob-based violence and their health insurance is canceled, we win.

That’s right, we’re going to fix the health insurance system by destroying it.

I know that not all of you have been with us since the very beginning, so let me bring you up to speed on our logic. You have to think of the health insurance problem as a circle. Here at the top is our goal of getting everybody adequate coverage. But, six months ago, we were down here and the system wasn’t working. Some people were getting to go to the doctor. Meanwhile, uninsured hemophiliacs were dying in the streets due to paper cuts. Have I met any of these hemophiliacs? No, but as an uninsured person with bad asthma and a tendency to use antidepressants as both an ice cream and salad topping, I could understand the fuzzy details of their supposed struggle.

Anyway, back to the circle, there were a lot intelligent people trying to figure out how to fix health care, basically how to get from here at the bottom to here at the top. But it wasn’t working. The insurance companies were way too powerful and a certain Nebraska senator’s vote on reform hinged on his state getting federal funds for a spaceport. Meanwhile, the uninsured were limping through the streets of Seattle like zombies, moaning about neck pains and stiff arms, and bringing their respirtory diseases on public transportation.

And that’s when a group of us came up with an idea.

OK, prepare yourself for the simple solution. The genius moment, if you will.

What if we went in the opposite direction?

Because, if you keep moving around the circle, you’ll eventually get here, to nobody having health insurance. And guess who’s the next-door neighbor of nobody having insurance? Exactly what we were looking for, everybody insured. We realized that once you arrive here, all you need to do is hop over that little fence. Problem solved.

Some have asked why we’d use the circle to illustrate our plan. It’s actually quite simple, my friends, if we used a straight line and having insurance was here on one end and not having insurance was on the other, our plan wouldn’t make any sense.

Also, I know some of you in this crowd have expressed skepticism about this “little hop” and how exactly this miraculous transition from a broken health care system to an affordable, equitable model is going to work. All I can tell you is that maybe you should have shown up for some of the earlier planning sessions. It’s a little late to discuss process when we’re in the parking lot of this Starbucks hiding behind a burned out truck on a night punctuated by random gunfire and the unheeded cries of newly-orphaned children.

Really, I don’t want to be a jerk, but the last night of a revolution is a little late to bring up your serious concerns. My apologies for shoving the truth in your face and telling you to smell it, but really, come on.

By breaking the system to fix the system, we were following precedent. Just like when a person gets struck in the head and loses their memory or consciousness. The way to help that person is to hit them in the head again. It’s also exactly the same as fighting fire with fire, despite what the “fire department” will tell you about the limitations of that strategy.

Anyway, once we had a solution in mind, the only question was how we were going to get to the point where nobody had insurance. Now, if “the people” were reasonable, they would have canceled their coverage when we put up those fliers on the telephone poles. Of course, “the people” were set in their insured ways and absolutely resistant to canceling their insurance. The only way to make our plan work was to get the insurance companies to drop them, and the only way the companies were going to do that is if their customers cost too much money. Ultimately, the only way to help the “people” was to hurt them.

In the beginning, we just tried to figure what would work. We licked forks, sneezed under sneeze guards, and got our friend “H1N1 Charlie” a job at the IKEA ball pit. But, we quickly realized that some diseases and injuries were better than others, in terms of health insurance resources used and the cost of those resources. We needed to make things happen to people that involved as much gauze, MRIs, heart paddles, evacuation helicopters, and batteries of tests as possible. We couldn’t just hurt people, we had to hurt them badly.

I myself spent an hour rubbing a single pecan on the workspace of an insured officemate with a tree nut allergy. Let me tell you that I took little joy in this, because anaphylactic shock is only funny for the first three seconds, when it seemed like we were playing charades and he was trying to convey “Abbott and Costello Meet Frankenstein.” I expressed my remorse to him later, after he was diagnosed with a coma. I’d like to think that he squeezed my hand gently, as a way of saying “I forgive you.”

Dropping a handful of consumers who were costing too much didn’t mean much to the insurers at first. They found other ways to compensate for lost customers. For example, a lice diagnosis now required a broken tongue depressor and a colonoscopy. Trauma patients in the emergency room were asked if they preferred to live, thus officially making life-saving procedures elective surgery.

We had to up our effort and that meant we didn’t have an hour to rub our nuts on a co-worker’s World’s Best Dad mug…

Wait. That came out wrong. I really do not want you picturing me desperately rubbing my testicles like a scratch ticket on other people’s possessions.

Anyway, we had to expand our effort and that’s when we came up with the three most effective and expedient methods to further our cause.

1. Pushing people down the stairs
2. A strain of antibiotic-resistant syphilis
3. Bear Traps

I can see by the limping and jagged scars that some of you are familiar with this last one. In any case, I want you to know that your pain had a purpose. Believe me when I tell you that there was no malice in what we were doing. I mean if you could save someone’s life by hitting them in the face with a 2x4, hopefully you wouldn’t think twice. I know that in the same situation, I didn’t.

Have things, at times, gotten out of hand? I really don’t want to draw a box around “out of hand.” Certainly, in any great endeavor, mistakes are made and for that I will apologize by bowing for three seconds.

One Mississippi, Two Mississippi, Three Mississippi.

That’s better. Those of you familiar with apology culture will realize that there are deeper, longer bows that symbolize a greater remorse, but you can only be as sorry as you are sorry, and I know we did our best.

Also, in claims of excess involving a certain group opposed to our desires. I believe what we did were reasonable responses to their poorly spelled threats and ever-present Hitler mustaches. I will go no farther on that particular subject, except to say that they asked for it.

Just remember that all of that brought us to this wonderful moment. A moment when we stand up and say, “no more.” By the way, nobody actually stand up because there are snipers on the roofline over there.

Now, let’s acknowledge that elephant in the corner of the burning parking lot. There is no question that some of us are going to get shot. But 70% of people who get shot, get shot in the fleshy part of their no-dominant arm. What you should focus on is that if we accomplish what we’re here for, you’ll be able to have that bullet removed later. Only the dedication and devotion you show today is going to get that bullet out—that and a surgeon.

But let’s not think about being shot.

OK, I can tell by your faces that some of you are still thinking about being shot. Well, I think we’ve come a little too far for those concerns, but I’ll try to give you a couple encouraging words. For the sake of the mission, it would be best to pretend the next words are just for you.

Let me be straight with you. Don’t make eye contact with person next to you because this is message just for you. Just keep looking straight ahead with a kind of glazed look on your face.

Excellent. Anyway, I made up those gun shot statistics. Those Blackwater dudes are pros and once they’re done with this group, it will look like Gallagher went amok in a melon patch.

But somebody has to go first and the only way the rest of these people are going to throw themselves over that fence is if they think they’re the one who is going to survive. I want to assure you at this time that you will survive. Why? Because someone has to be the hero.

You might, at this point, be thinking about the lifetime of poor decisions that have brought you to this moment or maybe you’re regretting drawing a burglar mask on your face with a Sharpie. But please just focus on this moment and realize that you are exactly where you need to be.

If it will make you feel better, take a moment now to look at the person next to you and wish with all your heart that this person dies before you. You don’t have to do this in a negative way. Just encourage their slaughter, not yours. Don’t feel bad about it, it’s only natural. Plus, if you are already contemplating their demise it will make it easier when their contents of their head hit you like a truck driving through a puddle.

No, please don’t look at them all teary-eyed. Give them just 10 seconds of dignity before the inevitable terrible happens. They don’t need your pre-grief, especially since if we are going to do this, everyone has to believe that they are going to make it through this. Let them think it, just as long as you know that you will come out of this completely unscathed.

Just promise me one thing. In the future, when you visit your publically optioned physician and people ask you about what happened here, please remember to tell them about the people who perished today. Sure, I’m getting ahead of myself because they’re standing here and not dead yet, but they will be soon.

Tell them that you did this so they could use their real name the next time they went to the emergency room. Tell them that we did this so they wouldn’t have to drink whiskey al night with a broken hand, just waiting for the morning, when they could clock in at work, fake an injury and claim worker’s comp.

Make sure to tell those future people that while this group wasn’t made up of the smartest people, they were dedicated. Tell them that while we didn’t have the best ideas to fix health care, at least we followed through on them. Also, nobody here probably realized that they were the first wave of a planned fifty to storm this particular Starbucks.

I think that’s it.

Oh, wait, someone suggested zig-zagging across the parking lot might help. If you think that will make you feel better, zag away.

OK, on three.

One, two, GO!


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