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April 7, 2009

Travels with Uncle Chet: Reforming health care is a messy endeavor


COLUMBUS _ ``You're going to have to take drastic measures with that,'' Uncle Chet squinted up at the kitchen ceiling.

``And that's the third coat,'' I said from the table, drinking coffee, looking up at a hideous spackling job.

``You're trying the impossible with a knife,'' he said. ``You're going to need a board.''

``What?''

``Get a one-by-four, about three feet long,'' he said. ``Slap up some goop, then screed it with that board _ like concrete, only upside down. That's the only way you're going to hide that bump.''

``That's going to make a mess,'' I said.

``True,'' he said. ``I'll get my camera.''

``Geesh,'' I grumbled and moved the eight-foot ladder to the far wall.

``Some of the best jobs are the messiest,'' said Uncle Chet, who stayed at the table with his coffee, ``but they're the ones that need doing the most.''

I found a scrap board in the barn, got out the tub of spackle. Then I filled the pan with mud, took it and the wide knife up the ladder.

``Now, you take health care,'' he said. ``There's nothing that needs fixing more than health care, but it's going to be very messy.''

``Bombs away,'' I said and leaned back on the ladder.

``Half the paper-pushers at the health insurers are going to lose their jobs because they really don't do anything for health care except drive up the cost,'' he said. ``They take 30 cents out of every dollar without treating a single patient.''

``Yuck.''

``Of course, the rank and file will have to be retrained. That'll cost a few billion, but that's a bargain if you're cutting health care costs for an entire nation. And Obama and Congress can do it with a single rule change: Allow everyone to opt into Medicare, the American public health care system, among the most efficient and well-liked in the world.''

I slapped up another knifeful, spreading muck two feet wide.

``And we might save more than 30 percent in the long run,'' he said, ``because if Medicare spoke for 250 million customers, can you imagine the clout it would have with drug companies?''

I was leaning back over the ladder top, drawing the knife, spackle leaking out both ends, peppering the floor like a flock of geese.

``The rich say they want to preserve choice of insurers, and I say, let them,'' said Uncle Chet. ``But let the rest of us into Medicare, where everyone's covered by one billing system, run of the people, by the people and for the people, like that great Republican once said.''

I lowered the knife and scraped it clean. ``Phew. That was a pain. Look at the floor!''

``You're halfway there,'' he said, then got up because someone was driving a jalopy pickup down the driveway.

``It's Bruce!' he said. ``Behind the wheel.''

I climbed down and was washing my hands when Cousin Bruce, dapper at 50 with the new jeans and tinted lenses, came through the door.

``Still making a mess,'' he observed, turning around. ``But I guess you're gaining.''

``Slow but sure. What are you up to?'' I said. ``Want a beer?''

``Don't know if I should,'' he said. ``In a sense, I'm working.''

``You never offered me a beer,'' said Uncle Chet.

``That's right,'' I said and went to the refrigerator underneath that hideous spackling job, for we had a good excuse to take five.

``Actually, I am working right now,'' said Bruce, but took a sip.

``Doing what?'' asked Uncle Chet. ``There's nothing around here.''

``I go to properties, take pictures, sometimes ask people a few questions,'' Bruce said vaguely and pulled out a fancy cell phone. ``They pay me $12 for each one and I send everything in on this.''

``To whom?'' I asked.

``Let me see that thing,'' Uncle Chet reached for the phone-camera-keyboard.

``I don't know. Probably the repo man,'' Bruce shrugged. ``All I know is, business is booming.''

___

Cooperstown News Bureau Reporter Tom Grace is traveling with his Uncle Chet, who he says is imaginary. Grace's column appears every other week.