Magazine | January 23, 2012, Issue

Our Sick State

A couple of months back, I was with a friend of mine when she suddenly collapsed and I found myself having to run her to the emergency room. After a fairly harrowing 14 hours, the hospital released her, the doctor writing her a prescription for the still-very-intense pain she was in. So we stopped at her local Kinney Drugs in Vermont.

Despite having been called in by the doc, the prescription wasn’t ready. Come back in an hour. Heigh-ho. So we left it an hour and a half, and then, not wishing to make another pointless trip, called the pharmacy just to make sure. No, sorry, the druggist said. They ran the insurance number and it was denied. So they canceled the prescription. Without calling the patient to tell her they’d canceled it. I passed the phone to my friend, lying on the couch like a tubercular Victorian heroine, and she explained that her employer had recently switched plans from Blue Cross/Blue Shield to Cigna and, midst groans, gave them the new policy number. She waited another hour in pain and we then returned to Kinney Drugs, using the convenient drive-thru lane.

This time, they had the drugs. My pal handed over her new insurance card. After some 15 minutes, the clerk returned and said the insurer had declined it. There were two cars backed up behind us. My friend said that couldn’t be right, the number was valid, could they please run the number again. They did. Same result. There were now four cars behind us. The clerk suggested we drive around the building, join the back of the drive-thru line, and maybe when she’d taken care of the four cars behind things would have quietened down sufficiently for her to call someone and try to find out what the problem was.

Never mind my friend’s crippling pain, spare a thought for me: I’d had to spend untold hours being kindly and supportive and sympathetic, which is not a role to which I’m naturally suited, and the strain was beginning to tell. In that useful Americanism, I didn’t need this in my life right now. So I enquired of Kinney Drugs whether it would be possible for us just to pay for the prescription — you know, with money — and then bugger off to resume our lives. She went off to see whether that was still possible. Upon her return, I grabbed my wallet and pulled out a credit card.

“That will be eighteen dollars and 79 cents,” she said.

Oh. For whatever reason — perhaps the sheer dogged determination required to negotiate this time-consuming transaction to a successful conclusion — I had assumed this would be one of those expensive pills about which one hears so much and I’d be ponying up 500 bucks. Instead, I put away the credit card and fished out a $20 bill.

And then I thought of the opportunity cost not only to me but to the four cars behind. It seemed a very expensive way to buy 18 bucks’ worth of pills.

#page#It turned out my friend’s prescription was denied because someone at the pharmacy had transposed two numbers. Oh, well. Could happen to anyone. And, in fact, it does. Speaking as an unassimilated foreigner, I notice when you’re standing in line that the big difference between a trip to the pharmacy in the U.S. and one in the rest of the developed world is that in America the druggists spend virtually their entire time talking about not the medicine but the “customer”’s degree of access to it. For example, while guest-hosting for Fox News just after Christmas, I was taken ill while in New York. Saw a doc, got a prescription, this time went to a Duane Reade pharmacy on Sixth Avenue. The lady ahead of me was going away for New Year’s. Too bad. Her health-care provider declined to provide her with a renewal of her prescriptions before the 31st. The stylishly accoutered lady ahead of her had a better strike rate. After some delay, the pharmacist returned. She informed her (and the rest of us) that the good news was that her insurer had approved her Ortho, but the bad news was that they’d denied her Valtrex. Ortho is a birth-control pill. Valtrex is a herpes medication. Had her dinner date been a couple of places behind me in line, the news might have cast a bit of a damper on his evening. As it was, it occasioned general amusement among the women present.

I don’t quite know what you’d call these rituals, but the term “private health-care system” doesn’t seem the most obvious fit. Indeed, as in so many other areas of American life — the Fannie-Freddied mortgage market, the six-figure college education — the main purpose of these dysfunctional labyrinths ever more disconnected from any genuinely free market seems to be to discredit the very concept of a “private” system and thus soften up the electorate for statist fixes. I’ve argued for years in these pages that governmentalized health care fundamentally transforms the relationship between citizen and state in ways that make it all but impossible to have genuinely conservative government ever again. But at least the Canadian and British systems have the saving grace of an equality of awfulness. Both Obamacare and, alas, Romneycare seem designed to combine the worst aspects of the Scottish NHS and America’s present third-party pseudo-market — and thus a scale of bloated, bureaucratic, inflationary capriciousness unknown to human history.

In free, functioning societies, it ought to be easy to buy a bottle of pills. The fact that it isn’t is one reason why America has a real bad headache.

– Mr. Steyn blogs at SteynOnline.

Mark Steyn — Mark Steyn is an international bestselling author, a Top 41 recording artist, and a leading Canadian human-rights activist. That’s to say, his latest book, After America (2011), is a top-five bestseller in ...

In This Issue

Articles

Politics & Policy

The Rise of Rick

Johnston, Iowa — One hot August night in Ames, Rick Santorum stood on the basketball court at Iowa State University’s Hilton Coliseum and huddled with his wife, Karen. Few people ...
Politics & Policy

Electable You

‘The only reason I’m supporting [Mitt] Romney is because he can win the election,” an Iowan named Tim McCleary told the Washington Post in late December. It seems to be ...
Politics & Policy

The Constitution and the Coot

It should be some kind of requirement, according to constitutional scholar Adam Freedman, that every presidential election have a candidate who represents the Constitution. The “constitutional candidate” wouldn’t have a prayer ...
Politics & Policy

Nikki Haley’s Rough Start

Columbia, S.C. – The race for the Republican presidential nomination has pivoted towards South Carolina’s January 21 primary. Because the state’s primary voters have selected the eventual GOP nominee in every ...
Politics & Policy

For Shame

Would you believe me if I told you that America’s entitlement problem is not, at the end of the day, about unfunded mandates, changing demographics, out-of-control health-care costs, or marginal ...

Features

Books, Arts & Manners

Politics & Policy

Always Bet on Black

In the United States, as in most other modern democratic regimes, one of the most important political issues today concerns the relation between the individual and the coercive power of ...
Politics & Policy

You Can’t Go Home

One of the early trailers for The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, the David Fincher adaptation of history’s most successful Swedish potboiler, promised “the feel-bad movie of the year.” It ...

Sections

Politics & Policy

Letters

A Taxing Debate While I’m no fan of taxation generally, I find myself profoundly disagreeing with the Editors regarding online sales tax (The Week, November 28). They opine that if online ...
Politics & Policy

The Week

‐ The Iowa contest came down to a choice between representatives of three exotic religions: Mormonism, Catholicism, and libertarianism. ‐ The Gingrich campaign issued a paper on the historical and constitutional ...
Athwart

License to Photocopy

The new year brings new laws — over 40,000 statutes at the state level, each another incremental criminalization of some element of life. If every law in the country were ...
Politics & Policy

Poetry

FACELESS DREAMS FULL OF NUMBERS Every now and then for a few days The same dream presents a problem that can’t Quite be solved or sent away. It comes Like the dawn breeze, something ...
Happy Warrior

Our Sick State

A couple of months back, I was with a friend of mine when she suddenly collapsed and I found myself having to run her to the emergency room. After a ...

Most Popular

Politics & Policy

Students’ Anti-Gun Views

Are children innocents or are they leaders? Are teenagers fully autonomous decision-makers, or are they lumps of mental clay, still being molded by unfolding brain development? The Left seems to have a particularly hard time deciding these days. Take, for example, the high-school students from Parkland, ... Read More
PC Culture

Kill Chic

We live in a society in which gratuitous violence is the trademark of video games, movies, and popular music. Kill this, shoot that in repugnant detail becomes a race to the visual and spoken bottom. We have gone from Sam Peckinpah’s realistic portrayal of violent death to a gory ritual of metal ripping ... Read More
Elections

Romney Is a Misfit for America

Mitt’s back. The former governor of Massachusetts and occasional native son of Michigan has a new persona: Mr. Utah. He’s going to bring Utah conservatism to the whole Republican party and to the country at large. Wholesome, efficient, industrious, faithful. “Utah has a lot to teach the politicians in ... Read More
Law & the Courts

What the Second Amendment Means Today

The horrifying school massacre in Parkland, Fla., has prompted another national debate about guns. Unfortunately, it seems that these conversations are never terribly constructive — they are too often dominated by screeching extremists on both sides of the aisle and armchair pundits who offer sweeping opinions ... Read More
U.S.

Fire the FBI Chief

American government is supposed to look and sound like George Washington. What it actually looks and sounds like is Henry Hill from Goodfellas: bad suit, hand out, intoning the eternal mantra: “F*** you, pay me.” American government mostly works by interposition, standing between us, the free people at ... Read More
Film & TV

Black Panther’s Circle of Hype

The Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU) first infantilizes its audience, then banalizes it, and, finally, controls it through marketing. This commercial strategy, geared toward adolescents of all ages, resembles the Democratic party’s political manipulation of black Americans, targeting that audience through its ... Read More