Fireworks! Orchestras! and dancing doctors!

Health Care – A Counter-Ceremony Honoring America’s Health Care System

By Kevin Horrigan
St. Louis Post-Dispatch, August 5, 2012

“Perhaps not surprisingly in a country where health care reform is so controversial, it was the high-profile presence of the NHS that stunned many American writers…. Certainly the U.S. equivalent, which would be dancing health insurance corporate executives, was hard to imagine.”

— Paul Harris, in The Guardian, June 28

Hah, hah, hah. Very funny. It’s not hard at all to imagine what the “U.S. equivalent” to your Olympic Opening Ceremony’s salute to Britain’s National Health Service would look like. I’m already working on it.

Sure, “dancing health insurance corporate executives” will be part of it. If you’d made that much money last year, you’d want to dance, too.

“Executives in the top spots at the country’s seven largest publicly traded health plans were paid a collective $87 million for their services in 2011,” American Medical News reported in May.

Picture this: It’s night in Florida. We’re in a darkened Raymond James Stadium in Tampa, jammed with 66,000 delegates to the Republican National Convention and their guests. A spotlight illuminates the stage. The seven top health care CEOs, carrying canes and dressed in white top hats and tails, prance on stage as the Mormon Tabernacle Choir sings “Puttin’ on the Ritz.”

Pretty nice, huh? And that’s just the start.

The spotlight widens to show 94 primary care doctors, in multi-colored scrub suits, forming a ring around David Cordani, the CEO of Cigna Health Care, bowing and scraping to honor the fact that at $19.1 million, Cordani made more in 2011 than all 94 of them combined.

The orchestra breaks into Gershwin’s “It Ain’t Necessarily So” as the stadium floor is lighted, revealing 400 actual health insurance bureaucrats wearing telephone headsets and sitting at small desks. They shake their heads back and forth in our “Salute to Rescission.”

The crowd erupts, because fans know that if Republicans repeal the Affordable Care Act, God will be in his heaven, all will be right with the world and insurance companies once again will be allowed to retroactively cancel coverage when someone needs it.

But now! What’s that? Lights around the stadium’s upper tier are forming a large donut, signifying the “Medicare donut hole” that will return once “Obamacare” is eliminated, thus insuring that drugs for anything between basic coverage and catastrophe are not covered. The orchestra swings into “Live and Let Die.”

Cannons in the end zones fire clouds of pills into the sky. As they fall to the floor, out of the stadium tunnels limp thousands of senior citizens who are allowed to scrounge for the pills. But only for three minutes, because it’s time for our….

Tribute to the ER! Giant video boards flash the image of former President George W. Bush uttering these immortal words in 2007: “I mean, people have access to health care in America. After all, you just go to an emergency room.”

The theme from the TV show “ER” comes up as sirens wail, ambulances and EMS trucks tear around the stadium floor, disgorging patients into the busy “emergency department” on center stage, already jammed with insured adults and children who have no primary care doctors.

Our ER “treats” them and send them on their way with big weights (symbolizing hospital bills) strapped to their backs, which they then pass to the people in the crowd — who are delighted to get them!

On guy-wires stretched across the top of the stadium a huge number “17.6” sparkles in gold and silver lights. It represents the percentage of the gross domestic product devoted to health care — 8 percent higher than the Brits. The music swells into Creed’s “Can You Take Me Higher?”

The crowd sings along, waving 66,000 foam “We’re Number 1” fingers, signaling America’s status as the nation with the most expensive health care in the world — 2.4 times more expensive than the silly Brits.

KA-BOOM! go the fireworks. We crane our heads skyward to see a giant figure “37,” symbolizing the World Health Organization’s ranking of the American health care system.

The big finale: With the crowd’s attention diverted skyward, volunteers — all of them from health insurance companies — have erected cardboard cutouts of men, women, children and babies around the floor of the stadium. There are so many of them — 45,000 — that they loop around the field in a squiggly line almost a mile long.

They represent the 45,000 Americans whose lack of health insurance contributes to their premature death each year, according to a 2009 study by the Harvard Medical School. Now riding into the stadium atop Rafalca, his wife’s Olympic dressage horse, is Mitt Romney, who will be nominated for president on the following night.

He guides the mare’s nose to the first cardboard figure. A simple nudge and, like dominoes, they topple over in spectacular sequence. The crowd goes wild.

Of course, depending on what happens in November, we could see an alternative “big finale.”

Obama could enter the stadium on his trusty steed “Single Payer,” and immediately run into the obscure maze of “Machinery Politics,” knocking Obama off of “Single Payer” who is immediately diverted to the glue factory as Obama remounts on “Pragmatic Incrementalist” who saunters over and nudges the first of 30,000 cardboard cutouts. The crowd goes wild (though only those sitting in the far left saw what really happened).

We’re going to have to do something about that crowd!

(They say that practical jokes have to be executed absolutely perfectly or you shouldn’t even try them. There is something about the domino cascade of 30,000 to 45,000 cutouts of American men, women, children and babies that just doesn’t sit well. Can we ever get the crowd to understand?)