Government Health Care: Like Your Local Cable Monopoly on Steroids

Every adult who's ever had a cable or telephone or power bill in their name has experienced The Call.

It can happen when something goes wrong, like the television signal dropping out or an inexplicable extra zero appearing in this month's bill. It can happen when you're simply trying to make a change to your service, like deleting a movie channel or adding a smartphone. But whatever the initial cause, we all know that sinking feeling when you're dialing the number for "customer service."

There's the scripted introduction, the recitation of your vital statistics (“for security purposes"), the obvious disinterest as you explain your problem, and then the long wait while the phone rep "reviews your records." And then, far more often than not, comes, "I'm sorry, but I can't help you with that." That's when you know for sure that you're in for a long and annoying fight.

The level of pain inflicted by The Call (and all the calls that inevitably follow it) rises exponentially with the size and age and monopoly status of the company you're dealing with. The satellite TV companies aren't a cakewalk, but they're still better than the local cable monopoly, and even the cable companies are easier to manage than any outfit that was formerly known as "the phone company" (yes, AT&T and Verizon, I'm talking to you). Deep within the DNA of the remaining telco providers still resides Lily Tomlin's famous slogan, "We don't care. We don't have to."

Even for all that, for all the frustration and incompetence and outright buffoonery you have to put up with when dealing with a cable or telephone monopoly, or (just for instance) an insurance company, you’re still talking about a private entity, a corporation. And as everybody in the blogging age knows, a corporation can be embarrassed. A corporation can be pressured. A corporation can be held up to public ridicule and shamed into living up to its promises, into making right the things its bureaucracy screws up. At the worst instance, a corporation can be sued.

But what if you’re not dealing with a corporation? What if the person on the other end of that line can’t be fired and couldn't care less what you might say about their employer on Twitter?

In other words, what if you’re dealing with the government? Ever try to get the Postal Service to pay up on your destroyed but “insured” package? That was a little different from getting Comcast to fix your bill, wasn’t it?

That’s the future we’re all looking at if Harry Reid and Nancy Pelosi and Barack Obama manage to unload their misbegotten offspring of a “health care” bill onto the public.

Think about it. Whether you’re dealing directly with the government or with a “private” insurer that’s been turned into a de facto public utility (and vastly enriched in the process), what’s your recourse going to be when the phone rep says, “I’m sorry, ma’am, but that procedure isn’t covered under the directives of the Medicare Advisory Panel, per Title XII, Section 24, Paragraph (d)”?

Ask to talk to their supervisor? Good luck. He’s probably out the door at 3 p.m., and even if he’s still in the office, he’s a lot more worried about his budget than your cancer and he’s got the law to fall back on. He’s probably a civil service employee, meaning he’s virtually unfireable, and God help you if he’s a member of SEIU or AFGE, because the government certainly won’t back you over him.

Take it to your congressman? Not a bad idea, but what if you donated $20 to his opponent last year? Or what if you didn’t donate $100 to his reelection? Don’t think they won’t know one way or the other -- those FEC records are very detailed and congresscritters have computers, too.

Remember, everybody in the country is trying to get the finite resources in this system to work for them. That gives great power to the few people who can game the system -- and that means politicians. The first instinct of any politician is to help his friends and hurt his enemies. Think his aides are going to be jumping through hoops to help you if you’re not on their approved list?

You say you’ll take it to the press? Good luck with that -- the media is firmly in the “health care reform” camp. Once the complaints start going against the government as opposed to evil corporations, they’re going to lose interest in the subject. To them, you’ll just be an anti-“reform” troublemaker.

Go after them in the blogosphere? Knock yourself out -- but you’re going to run into the cold fact that the people you’re dealing with are protected by civil service rules. They can’t be fired and they don’t care what you say about them.

Don’t believe me? How did your last airport encounter with a TSA screener go? What was it like the last time you had to get your driver’s license renewed?

Ever been audited?

Dealing with a monopoly is almost always a lousy experience, but what’s it going to be like when The Call is about your health … or your spouse’s heath … or your kids’ health … and the other side of the line is the biggest and most bureaucratic monopoly of them all?

Makes AT&T or Comcast look like a pleasure to do business with, doesn’t it?