It took me years of living in the United States before I acclimated to certain uniquely American rituals. I noticed early, standing in the pick-up line at CVS or Rite Aid, that it took more time to collect a prescription than in any other country I’ve ever needed a bottle of pills in. But it was a while longer before I was sufficiently bored to start following the conversations of those two or three places ahead of me in line, as they argued over 78-cent co-pays, or suggested the clerk had perhaps transposed two of the insurance numbers, or explained that the problem might be due to their employer having recently switched from Blue Cross to Cigna . . . Filling a prescription in America is like going to a very fashionable nightclub: You can never be entirely certain the doorman will let you in.
It happened to a friend of mine the other day. Her monthly refill was denied late on a Friday afternoon so she had the weekend to prepare herself for the Monday-morning bad news that her health insurance had been canceled, without notification, and its cancellation backdated a couple of months just to add to the fun. Long story. They all are. Too long for this column, or indeed the average novella. Also very complicated. That’s one of the advantages of the system. I confess, as a guest host for Rush Limbaugh on the radio, that my heart sinks a little whenever a caller wishes to explain the particular indignities heaped upon him by his health-care “provider,” because generally it takes a good 20 minutes just to lay out the facts of the case, and even then it doesn’t really make sense. I don’t like to think I’m a total idiot. When an ISI guy from Islamabad expounds on the ever shifting tribal allegiances of North Waziristan, I’m on top of every nuance. When a London tax expert explains money laundering by Russian oligarchs through Guernsey and Nevis via Ireland and Cyprus, I can pretty much keep up. But when a victim of American health care starts trying to fill me in, round about 40 minutes in I have a strange urge to stab forks in my eyeballs. Except then, of course, I’d have to go to an American hospital.