Health insurance and the Faustian Bargain
Ryan Summerlin December 19, 2013
Last week, I fell asleep re-reading Christopher Marlowe’s circa 1604 A.D. play: “The Tragic Life and Death of Doctor Faustus.” Soon, I was dreaming that I was Dr. Faustus, the CEO of Dewey, Cheatem & Howe — a major health insurance company. Some fellow named Mephistopheles told me that his boss, Lew C. Furr, wanted to offer me a bargain that would make me and my shareholders fabulously wealthy.
When I met Lew C. Furr, he said, “Look, if you will let me operate your business for 24 years, I will provide you with 33 million new customers who will be mandated to buy your health insurance and if they don’t purchase your health insurance, the government of the U.S. of A. will punish them for not buying your health insurance. Even better, most of the 33 million new customers will be too young to have health problems. That means your company won’t be paying out much money to health care providers. Such a deal!”
This Lew C. Furr character was tall, thin and kinda toasty-looking, as if he had been standing too close to a hellacious fire for too long. He smoked cigarettes like a chimney, so I figured he would not last four years, much less eight. Certainly, not the 24 years he was asking for. So, I entered into the bargain with Lew C. Furr.
Unfortunately, the online enrollment system set up by Lew C. Furr was devilishly difficult for people to navigate. Rarely would their computers connect with Lew C. Furr’s enrollment system. And, when they did connect, people had to provide their most private health information to a system which was being hacked by scammers pretending to be Lew C. Furr’s system.
I hurried to an Internet cafe where I found a Miss Sissy Fuss who was trying over and over again to get enrolled; however, her only partially completed form kept dropping offline. Sissy Fuss showed me a letter from her old health insurance company saying she was no longer insured. Because she had just discovered a large lump in one breast, she was desperate. Her answering machine at home was receiving robo-calls saying, “unless she submitted additional person information, her application had uncorrectable errors.” She feared the lump removal, radiation and chemotherapy would wipe her out financially.
I contacted Lew C. Furr, who responded, “Sorry, Dr. Faustus, you see the ‘public opinion clause’ in our bargain’s fine print says you will be forced to pay her medicals costs whether she is fully enrolled or not. In fact, whether or not your company ever gets paid any insurance premiums is not my concern.
“But that’s where the fines come in. The fines from those who refuse to buy health insurance go into your company coffers.”
“Wait,” I protested. “The fines won’t cover our payments to health-care providers. Under this cockamamie bargain, we can’t afford to stay in business!”
“I know,” said Lew C. Furr. “Again, check the fine print. It says, ‘If the private insurance companies fail, then Plan B is Socialized Medicine, AKA single-payer.’ You know, for a highly paid CEO, you are rather naïve.”
Jolted awake, I realized this wasn’t a dream. It was an actual nightmare.
Nationally syndicated columnist, William Hamilton, was educated at the University of Oklahoma, the George Washington University, the U.S Naval War College, the University of Nebraska, and Harvard University.