My Personal Government Healthcare Story

August 14, 2009

If you’ve kept up on the news this summer then I don’t need to tell you that the dominating topic has been the government overhaul of health care. This is a huge issue, America is split right down the middle and passions on both sides are flaring. In a world where news requires themes to stay cutting edge, health care is the new “war on terror,” from a ratings standpoint.

My goal with this post isn’t to influence your opinion on the purposed legislation. Like your elected representatives, I too have not read any of the half dozen something purposed reform bills haunting the empty halls of congress at the moment. So, unlike your elected representatives, I do not feel I have done the research required to persuade you. Novel idea right?

As I was getting ready to head into the dentist this morning I, with the help of my wonderful wife, realized something. I have a personal story about government health care! Not just any government health care, but American government health care. As a veteran, I am of the minority of Americans who have had access to American government-run health care. Before we go any farther, let me give you some back story.

I have bad teeth. It’s a little embarrassing to admit, but it’s the truth. My grandmother on my mother’s side saw her first set of dentures before age 30. My mother before age 45. I went through periods in my life without dental care and I lived in places that had well water that lacked fluoride. Now I don’t want you to get the wrong idea, I am no victim. I am a certified chocoholic and in my younger years I didn’t exactly have the best dental hygiene practices. As an adult I have learned my lesson: I am sonic-care wielding, soda-pop abstaining, twice a day flossing, Listerine rinsing, cavity prevention aficionado. But, while genetics and circumstance surely played into my condition, I cannot say I wasn’t a contributor. However you slice it, I amassed a number of fillings as a teenager. Then I joined the Air Force. This is where the fun begins.

In the civilian world dentists are fond of composite fillings. They look like your natural teeth, and who doesn’t want that? In military dentistry this is looked down upon, or at least was at that time. I was told that my fillings were no good:  composite fillings are inferior to metal fillings when it comes to thermal expansion. Because of this I needed the vast majority of my fillings redone with their alloy counterparts. The part about composite fillings not expanding as well as alloy is actually true from what I understand, it’s just not that big of a deal. Military dentists then went on to re-treat my already treated chompers, whether they needed them or not. Fillings became larger fillings, large fillings became root canals, and so on. When it was all said and done the military had rewritten the book on my smile. I, not knowing any better, was happy for the free dental work. Isn’t free health care grand?

Fast forward to 2008, I am a civilian again, and my dentist is not pleased. Nearly all of my military fillings have failed (some in as quickly as 2 years). One root canal in particular is of exceptional concern. X-Rays revealed that the military dentist who performed it didn’t quite finish the job. Specifically, she failed to follow the nerve down to the nerve end in the tooth. This left me with swelling, occasional drainage (ick), and follow on treatment to correct her mistake. The worst part was that this root canal was done in 2001 and I didn’t leave the military until the end of 2005! This means that every time I saw the dentist from then until when I separated they looked at the tooth, called it good, and sent me on my way (UPDATE:  re-treatment yielded nothing save a conclusion that my military dentist cracked the tooth when she attempted to treat it).

Even the good root canal I had done in the military was bad. In an effort to save money the military often elects to not cap a root canal but rather build up what is known as “the big filling.” The problem is that uncapped root canals have a nasty habit of failing over the long term. So why do it? The answer is money. This is the rationing of care we have been told would never be done in America. Yet it happened to me none the less.

Why did the military do all that? The answer is complicated yet predictable. In a society where everyone has health care, more professionals are needed. This idea is easy enough to understand. The funny thing about military dentistry is that established care providers don’t seem to have an interest in providing care in Baghdad for half the pay of their civilian counterparts. This leads to a massive influx of inexperienced providers, who need training, which I unwittingly provided. Maybe I should have realized that when the dentist who performed my failed root canal hit a nerve in my jaw. If this has never happen to you, and you would like to understand the feeling, try plugging your mouth into a an electrical outlet and you will have had a similar experience. Maybe I should have realized this when one day, as I was flossing, I completely removed a filling from a molar which went flying across my apartment. Isn’t free health care grand?

This experience has left me with a trip to a specialist to re-re-treat my failed root canal and several trips to the dentist to rework my reworked teeth. All told I’m looking at close to $3,000 (UPDATE:  try $6,000), and that’s after my insurance pays their portion. As it was government health care who caused these problems you would think I could come after them for some of this right? WRONG, try suing the government some time and let me know how that works out for you.

That is the real misnomer with government provided health care. President Obama has been quoted as saying he isn’t in favor of limitations on malpractice damages as a part of health care reform. But, if the government pays for your care, you loose most of your rights to compensation in the event of malpractice. That is essentially the same thing as putting a limitation on malpractice damages.

My story isn’t unique: VA hospitals are filled with horror stories of failed treatments worse than my own, in some ways I actually feel lucky. Isn’t that sick? The vast majority of these people have no legal recourse, regardless of the damage done to them by substandard VA care.

The question I leave you with is this: If this is how the government handles health care on a small level, are you comfortable singing on to a massively larger public option? I wouldn’t let someone handle something large if they failed to handle something small, but that’s just me.



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  3. My family has had a similar experience, except with private health care – try suing an insurance company sometime. Same result as going after the government (unless you are rich, of course, and can afford high-end attorneys). The difference I see here is that your poor care was most likely due to using a government agency that is vastly underfunded and has to do things on the cheap. Private companies cut corners because of excessive profit greed. Which situation is worse?

  4. […] of CFL bulbs, a product every conservative hates… for no factual reason.  The second was my personal experience with government healthcare as a United States Airmen, something liberals would like to tell you would NEVER happen to […]

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