Sunday, April 12, 2009

The Case Against Universal Health Care

One of the pleasures of banging out a show like Leverage is that we hit at the exact same time the economic meltdown laid bare over-the-top executive-level corruption. (these aren't the story starters -- we're not L&O -- but simply examples):

How To Rob a Bank You Own
- one of the plots of the 2nd season premiere
Corporations Testing drugs on children and, you know, maybe killing them. - Mile High Job & The Juror #6 Job
Insurance Company claims coverage is experimental and lets your kid die - The Nigerian Job
Contractors defrauding Katrina victims - The Snow Job
Corporate espionage - The Nigerian Job

Like we always say, we're not anti-corporation, we're anti-corrupt corporation. Just like Criminal Minds isn't anti-scraggly white dude, just anti-flesh-eating scraggly white dude. What's amazing is that as we amp things up for dramatic effect and embrace the idea that we're a pulp show -- reality has far, far surpassed us:

Guy fakes his death by JUMPING OUT OF A FRIKKIN' AIRPLANE.
Suit runs ten year $50 billion Ponzi scheme in full view of SEC.
Swiss financier smuggles diamonds in a tube of TOOTHPASTE.

Seriously, I can imagine the forum postings, the hoots of derision if we went for the toothpaste/diamond plot. I'm fairly sure you will see a house-arrest episode this year, however. I mean, for chrissake, the guy tried to mail $1 million in jewelry right out from under the noses of the Feds. Mail. In an envelope.

What I'm circling in on here is that our show Leverage depends on real-life social injustice as fuel for storylines and characters. We particularly depend on the broken health insurance model. Our protagonist, Nate Ford, lost a son to the "experimental treatment" dodge, sending him into his Robin Hood life of crime and functional alcoholism. Many of our victims are financially devastated by the perfidy of insurance companies, or crushed by health costs incurred as a result of other corporate misbehaviour. Redressing these sins, or scamming the bad guys to find the money to help these working-class victims rebuild their lives, is the driving force behind our show. And it's not just us: on Life a few weeks ago, a female coroner acted as an ccessroy to a crime solely so she wouldn't lose her health insurance while pregnant. Financial distress and criminal cover-up directly related to our broken health care system suffuse the American TV drama world.

Listen, fine, so 47 million Americans are uninsured and some 20 odd million Americans are under-insured, and 50% of all personal bankruptcies are caused by health costs, and 1.5 million families a year (a year) lose their homes because of health costs -- if you bring to America the same system of universal health care provided by every other Western nation at half the cost of our broken system -- all that suffering goes away. And as that suffering disappears, so do our plotlines.

Every TV show creates a hundred or so good union jobs, not to mention the downstream income and jobs created by the advertising, broadcast, and secondary distribution markets. Hollywood is one of the few American industries with an overall international trade surplus -- and much of its output is threatened by the current Administration's efforts to provide universal, affordable coverage to all Americans.

Granted, our recent lobbying to make sure the execs who brought about the current economic collapse escaped responsibility was startlingly effective. Without ruling-class villains there's no need for working-class heroes, and thank God that source of storylines remains intact. But this health insurance issue promises to be an even bigger threat. This is why we at Kung Fu Monkey are asking everyone who reads this blog to oppose all efforts to bring about universal health care to the US. Our misery-based fictions depend on it!


Doctor Jay said...

The link with the text "Guy fakes his death by JUMPING OUT OF A FRIKKIN' AIRPLANE." seems like it out to link to a story about Marcus Schrenker, who put his plane on autopilot and parachuted out over central Alabama.

Instead it's about the adoption fraud perpetrated by Orson Mozes, and there's no mention of airplanes.

Neither of these jokers would have been stopped by universal health care, so y'all need to suck it up. Pour another round if you must.

Toldain said...

Gah (or should that be "gh"?), make that "ought" instead of "out".

Rogers said...

Fixed, thanks.

And hey, not all our plot-inspiring misery is caused by lack of universal health care -- but a crucial, tipping point percentage of fictional resources!

Dwight Williams said...

*laughing my way into an asthma fit in east Ottawa...*

Michael Clear said...

Hey, there's always the auto insurance industry. I recently got into it with my people over who was going to pay for damages to my windshield. I really could have used a team of benevolent con artists to help get me my $300 back.

John Harrold said...

... if you bring to America the same system of universal health care provided by every other Western nation at half the cost of our broken system -- all that suffering goes away

In an ideal world you would be correct. In our world, with corruption, special interests, and lack of accountability I believe the objective listed above is simply an idealistic fantasy.

You want to put the same government that is responsible for Katrina, the Iraq War, subsidized corn based ethanol, the war on drugs, etc. in charge of administering health care.

Of course you could argue that many of those things are because of Bush and we have Obama now. Perhaps Obama won't screw things up, but he'll be gone 8 years from now. It's simply not possible to prevent another Bush.

Dwight Williams said...

Such a candidate's backers will certainly fight by many means to ensure that the candidate is successfully inflicted upon us all, 'tis true.

Doctor Memory said...

John Harrold: do you really think that the American government is uniquely or even, by the standards of the rest of the world, particularly incompetent and corrupt? I'll grant that we're not Norway or Sweden, but I've read nothing that suggests that we are in any obvious way worse than England, France, Spain or Italy, and every single one of those countries has been managing to pull off the trick for over 40 years now.

(For that matter, do you really believe that the American government is substantially more corrupt, incompetent or evil than the average insurance company?)

Dwight Williams said...

A lot of Americans are certainly taught to accept that corruption as an Article of Faith and Inevitability.

John Harrold said...

I wouldn't expect, for example, our policies towards drugs to be different than those of most of Europe, but they are.

Why would special interests be different here? That's a good question. Would Europe pass legislation to provide prescription drugs to people without the ability to negotiate prices? I doubt they would, but the US government did.

Perhaps it's a systemic problem, but I cannot support a plan to place my healthcare in the hands of the government that doesn't address these fundamental issues.

Rebecca said...

Our health care is the most expensive in the world, yet we are ranked 37th in the world for its quality. We have the highest infant mortality rate of any developed country in the world! It's going to take quite some time to overhaul that big mess. I have a feeling there will be enough outrageous behavior to keep you going for the next 5 years.

Anyone who still believes we don't need single payer health care in this country needs to listen what the smart medical professionals have to say. Visit:

Stefan Jones said...

Leverage is one of the reasons I still have a cable subscription. I look forward to the new season.

Any chance of arranging for a cable TV ideologue to get the team's loving attentions?

Verification vocabulary:

'minti': Cheap knock-off of Mentos, recalled in most countries due to the high melanin content.

Alex D said...

I do hope you guys will, um, 'take inspiration' from the diamond heist that may well have been a giant insurance fraud so ably covered in Wired last month. When I read the article, I thought, damn, if I don't see some of these how-tos on a Leverage episode this season, I will be sorely disappointed.

Joshua James said...


so John Harrold's view is that, since our government is corrupt and incompetent, to try and do something to save the millions who suffer to do inadequate or no health coverage ... because it's useless since Bush messed everything up, and even if the new guy fixes it, we may get another Bush.

I fail to see how this accomplishes anything ... if the government was truly bad at everything (and it's not bad at everything) why even hang around?

Part of this American construct is that, if you need to, you can involve yourself and make the government change ... that's how we got women voting, that's how civil rights happened, that's how many a good thing happened in spite of the bad.

Many folks who work for the goverment are outstanding ... fireman, teachers, soldiers, cops.

Police officers do an overall good job most of the time ... there are corrupt cops, you bet (we have them in New York) but the solution isn't NO COPS, but BETTER ones.

Because NO cops would be anarchy.

If your point is that because there have been bad policies, and bad government, we should have NO government, I respectfully submit that I think your position is ridiculous.

Let's replace bad government with good ... starting with universal health care. That's my opinion.

Steve Peterson said...

And it's not just the social justice angle -- it's the straight efficiency angle.

We pay 50% more for our health care than most other Western nations and get less.

We've got the AMC Gremlin of health-care systems. It's time we upgraded to a Honda Civic.

Anonymous said...


If America gets your universal health care system, will you please do a series about a gang of do-gooders who pay back the tax dollars taken from citizens to cover diabetes medication for morbidly obese people whose sole exercise regimen consists of lifting Whoppers into their mouths?

Or the chemotherapy treatment for pack-a-day Marlboro men?

Or fertility treatments for Octomoms?


t3knomanser said...

I would like to make a proposition.

Health insurance should be illegal. It should be illegal for private companies to offer health insurance. It should be illegal for the government to offer health insurance. Health insurance is the most irresponsible social construct we've created recently.

Ban pharmaceutical ads (again), and prevent medical patents from being renewed. Since the FDA has demonstrated that it's not so great at keeping dangerous drugs off the market, seriously look at restructuring their approval processes to reduce the costs for approval. Focus on reducing approval costs while trying to maintain the same level of safety (if not improving it: since it's cheaper, there's less incentive to cheat).

Finally, subsidize medical education, so that doctors aren't graduating with ridiculous burdens of debt over their heads.

Once we've done these things, we can start evaluating how we may (or may not) want to go about providing health care to the public. Just inserting the government doesn't address the problem; it simply moves the problem one step up the hierarchy. It doesn't make medical care cheaper, it just distributes the ridiculous cost around. National health care is the solution to the wrong problem.

Dwight Williams said...

Not even Canada yet dares take the Medicare idea that far.

We may want to give it some renewed thought, however.

Joshua James said...

Forgot to add, JH, that you don't want to trust the government with your health insurance but you feel comfortable trusting private industry, because Enron, AIG, Wall Street, they're all been run SO well?

Please ...

Dave said...

Hey, there's always Home Insurance Plans that refuse to pay out because, despite a lack of evidence and the advice of their own independent adjuster, they've decided you committed arson with such conviction the Supreme Court of Canada is required to ultimately intervene and tell them to not just pay up, but cough up $1,000,000 in punitive damages to the home owner...

Dwight Williams said...

I remember hearing about that judgement. Talk about having to hit a company's leadership with a clue-by-four...

Anonymous said...

Jeeze. If you have a problem with the country, either get out or fight for it.

We're a country that is only 233 years old. We've come a lot farther in 233 years than any country in Western Europe. You could chalk it up to industrialism and technology, but, bottom line, it's the people who fight damn hard to make sure that they can live a life of freedom and the capability to pursue happiness. You could call that a dream, but, let's face it, history repeats itself and it's about damn time its done again.

softriver said...

Great post! I recently wrote an article similar about international trade and the wealth disparity...

Unfortunately, as one of my more astute professors pointed out, we may be underestimating the ability of the elites to create havoc and despair... After all, if we take health care and finance out of the equation, that still leaves a lot of ways for the poor majority to get exploited by the rich minority. Ways we haven't even thought of yet!

So keep your chin up, guys, and keep writing!

Jason Pollock said...

Two things:

I read the report everyone quotes for the bankruptcy stats. People aren't bankrupted by the medical fees, they're bankrupted because of the loss of income. If you're a one (or even two) income family, what happens if that person loses their job and is unable to work for 1-2 years (or worse dies)? Bankruptcy.

Next, government healthcare is not all that magical. It still results in rationing. New Zealand has government healthcare, and they regularly do things such as deny dialysis to renal failure patients - limited resources. So, you'll have the same argument with your insurer about whether or not you are a good candidate for treatment. The only difference is that the insurer is the government. Same goes for Canada. If you have a waiting list, you're rationing, and making a deciding that some people aren't worth treating (people die on the lists).

So, while it may be better in that everyone is guaranteed a basic level of treatment, it isn't the be-all-end-all.

Jason Pollock said...

Here's a discussion of the study. It includes a link to it.

Dwight Williams said...

It's still better than the alternative south of the Line. Which some in our medical community seem inclined to keep trying to drag us back to. Witness the two recent CMA presidents for example, Brian Day and Robert Ouellet, pushing for what they claimed and still claim would Euro-style public/private service mixes.

(But not the current CMA President, Jeff Turnbull. He's on record as pro-medicare.)

jenniebee said...

Give 'em hell, John! Leverage is the best show on TV since Serenity went off the air IMHO.

Also, you forgot the recurring character development inspired by the country's overloaded and underfunded foster care system. Also.

Mef said...

I hate to be one of those guys who say "wow that was a great post John" and then don't really add anything to the discussion, but wow that was a great post John.


Rob said...

@Rogers: Seriously, I can imagine the forum postings, the hoots of derision if we went for the toothpaste/diamond plot.

I cannot speak for the other forum-hooters, but myself, it gives me a little smile every time you set up a superficially complex security problem only to reveal that, yeah, it's just that easy.

Could be not everyone appreciates that it's those moments that show you're really doing your homework.

Also: I want a wall print of the x-ray from that article. Bad.

Mary Sue said...

Facebook informed me that y'all started production in lovely Portland, Oregon (and sloe gin fizz, if that ain't love, then tell me what is--- *ahem* sorry, karaoke in my throat) today.

Hope y'all are enjoying the typical Oregon weather we ordered up right special for you Californians today. If'n you don't like it, just wait five minutes, it'll change again!

(No, I don't count as a Californian any more because I've got moss growing on my car.)

(p.s. Will there be explosions we can come watch from a really, really safe distance? Pretty please?)

Anonymous said...

Frankly I'm stunned the "experimental medical treatment that would have cured my son for sure but I couldn't get because my insurance company stiffed me" ever got past the concept stage.

Experimental treatments are NEVER covered by insurance because they're EXPERIMENTAL. There's no data to prove they're effective yet. Furthermore, patients never pay for experimental treatments if they can get into the study. The hospital/university/pharma company pays for all treatments.
So the entire reason for Nathan's emotional collapse - and the use of his admittedly horrible former employer as the operational evil in the series - is utterly ridiculous, and it makes it very hard for me to sympathize with his plight, because the catalyst for the story is completely wrong-headed.

Phil said...

Anon: You've bought the fictional insurance company's line - they avoided paying by saying the treatment was experimental, but going by what everyone from Nate to Stirling has said, that wasn't really the case.

Sean said...

@ Anon

I typically hate Michael Moore (while I appreciate his zeal for social justice he twists certain facts like the one that the kids who did columbine BROKE gun laws to perpetuate their massacre and then blames it on lax gun laws), but in Sicko as well as more respect worthy documentaries there are many many examples of experimental techniques like, I don't know, bone marrow transfusions.

It's my opinion we should just let rich people play by the same rules as the have-nots and see how quickly things stop being experimental. Or we could subsidize health care like we do ethanol(which doesn't work),Boeing(important yes, but subsidized nonetheless), Dow, Motorola, etc.

Anastasius said...

It's interesting. Here in scary, socialist Germany everyone who can afford it immediately opts out of the universal and gets a private plan and there's constant complaining and raging about how insufficient the coverage is. But when you read about the ridiculous situation in the US you sure are grateful for what you have.

Guess people always find somehting to whine about.

Inconstant Reader said...

Y'all scared me when I saw your post title on the RSS feed. "Have I completely misunderstood John Rogers's politics?" I wondered. Thank goodness this was such an awesome post.

If you used the diamonds/toothpaste story now, and provided links on the Leverage site, people would still hoot with derision. Real life doesn't have to be plausible, after all.

CtRokJ said...

Ok I have to say this because it needs to be said.

Around the SAME TIME that the whole AIG bonus thing came out it was announced QUIETLY that our new president wanted to either get rid of or completely change the health benifates that our SOLDIERS are getting. All because it was costing too much. Now tell me HOW can a government health care system for EVERYONE not cost MORE? And to make it clear, he was talking about not letting the wives or husbands and the soldiers children being covered.

Also I don't have health insurance so I do know what it's like to not be able to afford getting something taken care of.

Dave T said...

... female coroner acted as an ccessroy to a crime

Andrew D. Devenney said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Andrew D. Devenney said...

Jason Pollack: If you have a waiting list, you're rationing, and making a deciding that some people aren't worth treating (people die on the lists).We have rationing in this country right now. It's called rationing based on one's ability to pay.

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