February 17, 2014

Why Government Shouldn't Control Health Care

A couple of months ago, my family and I signed up for a new health care plan. Everything is better with this new deal: Bigger network, more doctors, more specialists, more and better everything. For most of my 52 years I’ve been blessed with good health, so I’m not a frequent flier; but I do need to fill a prescription once a month.

Up to now we’ve been required to use the pharmacy at the county clinic waaaaay cross town; but now we can go to Rite Aid, Walmart, CVS, Target, dozens of locations all over the small city where we live. But I’m partial to Costco, so I went in recently to transfer my prescription. I walked up to the counter (no waiting!) and handed the bottle to the pharmacist. She immediately got on the phone to the county pharmacy to verify my information. All she got was a recording, and no option to speak to a human. She apologized for the inconvenience, handed me her business card, and suggested I ask the county pharmacist to call her.
Off to the county pharmacy.

Wait in line for 20 minutes, and hand the card to the clerk. “I want to transfer my prescription to Costco. Can you call them, please?”

Blank stare. “No, we can’t do that. But why would you want to…?”

I'm dumbfounded; why does she care? But I resolve to be polite. “Because I have new insurance, and it’s closer to my home.”

Blank stare. “But then our insurance won’t cover you.”

Groan. Duh. Steady there, be nice. “I know. That’s why I need to transfer to Costco.” Another blank stare. “Is this a problem?”

Clearly, I'm now officially a pest. She calls the pharmacist. “Joe, can you help this customer?”

Five-minute wait for Joe. We do the same dance; I get the same attitudes, same arguments. “Just tell them to call the number on the prescription bottle,” as he turns to walk away.

Getting impatient now, as everyone in line behind me thinks I'm the problem. “They did, and all they got was a recording. Again, that's why I'm here.”

Joe makes no attempt to conceal his annoyance at my persistence. “Really? Are you sure?” He picks up the bottle and points. “This number?”

“Yep." There goes that look again; he doesn't believe me. I call the number on my cellphone right then and there, and let him listen in as I get the same result.

His eyes light up. “Oh, I see the problem now. They should call the number at the bottom of the label, not the top.”

Back to Costco. Pharmacist calls the number on the bottom of the label. Same result.

Back to the county pharmacy. Different people on duty now, same 20-minute wait, same arguments, same useless suggestions offered. But I refuse to leave without a solution. "Who's in charge here?"

This time it's Sam, the pharmacy manager. I explain myself again; he sighs and rolls his eyes. “Okay, Mr. Hutson, here’s the number to my office. Ask the Costco people to call me personally, and we can transfer your prescription.”

“Thank you.” It looks like we're getting somewhere. Back to Costco.

I share the saga with the pharmacist, she apologizes for the difficulty, and immediately calls the county pharmacist. She gets the same runaround I did, because no one is supposed to have that private number, and the manager doesn't normally get involved in such things. But finally reaches the right person.

"Uh huh. Uh huh." She turns to me: “They want you to show me your insurance card.”

“Huh? I don’t have it anymore.”

“But they need it, to find your file.”

Ugh. “My account number is on the top left corner of the label. Can you just read it off to them? That should do it.”

Success! (Wait, they didn’t know that?) Fifteen minutes later I head for the door with a bottle of pills in my pocket, thanking the Costco pharmacist for working so hard to help me, over the course of three hours.

Wow. Suddenly, I had an epiphany:

When I go to Costco they value my business, they work hard to get and keep my loyalty, and they apologize unprompted for things that weren’t their fault. They have an incentive to keep prices low, answer my questions, and give me good service. They know that if I’m unhappy, I can always go to the competition down the street. Every employee knows that if she chases away too many customers, she can get disciplined or demoted or even fired.

At the county pharmacy they consider me a beggar and a bother, and they have little concern for my welfare. They didn’t know their own procedures, and they didn’t know how to look up my file. They listed two useless phone numbers on their labels, and they thought I was crazy when I pointed it out. No one displayed a moment of concern, no one accepted responsibility. With government services they have no particular incentive to do their jobs well, and there’s no penalty for failure.

Our president wants to move all of us into a single-payer system, where this scenario could become the norm for all of us. If you don’t believe it, just watch his campaign speeches on YouTube.

This is why government shouldn’t control health care. 


  1. Steve, unlike me, you've never experienced s single payer health system. Some of them are pretty shabby and others are world class. The difference maker is the level of accountability the people expect from the administrators. What I dont understand, is your level of contempt for your fellow countrymen and their democratically elected choices. All I can tell you is if you accept second class services, thats what you continue to receive. CVS, Walmart & Costco are commercial enterprises that have nothing to do with socialized medicine though they clearly see the benefits that the ACA offers them and the choices it offers us.

  2. Not sure I understand your response, Anon. My experience has been that government health care is accountable to no one. And Costco's stellar service is not a product of ACA; it's a natural product of a competitive marketplace.