Health Insurance: Who Can Be Bothered?

Once upon a time, Russell Baker wrote that he had discovered a country living in his cellar. The citizens of this unfamiliar land actually were in residence inside his television, a piece of equipment Mr. Baker wisely kept below decks, where it served the useful purpose of offering dust a place to settle. But when Mr. Baker ventured downstairs to make better use of the talking furniture, he found himself sharing his cellar with all types of curious strangers.

I made a similar discovery the other day while driving along Interstate 80 in Pennsylvania. Bored by billboards hawking the wares of a million candle shops (have local firefighters been consulted about this home-decorating trend?) and depressed by the ratio of S.U.V.’s to sedans (like mine), I reached for the radio dial. And soon I discovered a country in my dashboard.

It’s a profoundly odd country, I have to say. It’s a country where health insurance is a contemptibleconcern, where the rugged individualists sneer at medical forms and insist on paying cash for services. It’s a country where the morality play of Democratvs.Republicanis played out through surrogates, with doctors standing in for dependence-loving liberals, office staff assuming the role of brain-dead bureaucrats, and one brave, stout-hearted fellow speaking the truth and acting like a latter-day Reagan.

Yes, I had tuned into the nation known as the Rush Limbaugh show.

As I don’t get a chance to listen to daytime radio, I can’t say I’m familiar with the civic culture of Limbaugh nation. So I was mildly surprised to hear that nation’s maximum leader carrying on about the stupidity of health insurance and the admirable but regrettably forgotten custom of simply paying Yankee dollars in exchange for services rendered. After all, Mr. Limbaugh told us, that’s what he does when he visits the doctor! Why, he has two or three or four (he can’t keep count!) health-insurance plans, including one foisted upon him by the union of radio blowhards, but he never uses these plans because he pays cash money for his medical needs. What a great nation we would be if only we were all like him! What kind of crypto-Euro-socialists have we become, that we rely on insurance companies to help pay for services we need?

Mr. Limbaugh’s contempt for health insurance is matched only by his impatience with medical forms, which he sees as yet another nefarious big-government plot to keep people intimidated, ignorant and dependent. In the great man’s view, the doctors are like liberal Democrats, and their staffs are the equivalent of paper-pushing bureaucrats devoid of creativity, energy and all those things that once made us great. Why, when Mr. Limbaugh attempted to pay cash for his X-rays, the bureaucrats were aghast. They didn’t know what to do! They were trained to ask for an insurance card, and when Mr. Limbaugh declined to produce one-remember, he doesn’t know where his cards are, because he never uses them, because he is a rugged individualist-why, they fumbled and sputtered and consulted their rules and procedures!

Oh, there was no mistaking Mr. Limbaugh’s contempt for these little people with their little minds. And why do these little people exist, and why do they hand us those forms? They want us to be dependent. If we were all like Rush, we would throw away the forms and cut up our insurance cards and pay for our doctor’s visits and X-rays and cancer surgery in cash, like we did back in the old days when we were great.

Do people really believe this crap? Were the citizens of Limbaugh Land nodding their heads in agreement as the great man denounced health insurance as just another instrument of dependence? Was anybody out there thinking: Actually, we are dependent on the medical profession when we’re sick, just as we’re dependent on firefighters when our candles fall over and set fire to our curtains.

Mr. Limbaugh’s tirade coincided, as luck would have it, with President Bush’s speech at the University of Scranton on medical-malpractice reform. A worthwhile topic, no doubt-if you don’t think there’s something a bit irregular about the medical-malpractice industry, you haven’t been listening to the ambulance chasers who buy ads on local radio stations. Carry their phone numbers with you at all times! If you have been hurt by an incompetent doctor in any way, call 1-800-GETCASH and lawyers will be at your bedside!

Mr. Limbaugh, an entertainer at heart, should be having great fun at the expense of trial lawyers. Displaying contempt for non-millionaires who depend on their health insurance, however, is more than a little unseemly.

Then again, perhaps they should simply skip medical treatment entirely. It would decrease the surplus population.