Grinding my teeth over healthcare

I published earlier this week a post about Katrine standing beside Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi to talk about the imperfections of our current healthcare system. Imperfection is, of course, an understatement. When people who run small businesses that America so prides itself upon cannot affordably access healthcare, we have a problem. And then there's me.

I work for a large corporation where I have access to decent benefits, including a number of healthcare options. Still, I was reminded at the dentist on Wednesday that even my healthcare is subject to crapiness.

For some odd, odd reason, I scheduled a teeth cleaning at Willamette Dental in Tacoma at 7 a.m. I usually don't wake up for work until 6:30 a.m. (Note to self: Do not schedule a meeting this early again.) To boot, I arrived 10 minutes early and froze my ass off in the car because they didn't unlock the doors until 7 a.m.

There was actually a line of us that marched through when the doors opened. I was third or fourth in line. Who could be so eager to see the dentist?

One of the gentlemen ahead of me, Harry, had a heck of a time getting past the receptionist, Porsche. You can picture what she looked like.

Harry's files had been "randomly audited" and sent to Oregon without his knowledge. A hygienist relieved Porsche to let Harry know that the dentist wouldn't see him without access to his files. As a consolation, Porsche asked him to reschedule. He let her know that he took off the day from work for the appointment. Without a change in tone, Porsche just asked him again when he could reschedule. He reluctantly conceded.

I hate to judge by looks, but you could tell Harry probably doesn't have the opportunity to get into the dentist often, and he got turned away because of an internal process. They didn't bother to let him know in advance that they wouldn't see him because of the circumstance. At face value, this was obviously just poor service. Compliance is compliance, but couldn't they just have faxed copies of his file?

Harry left, and I was called to meet the St. Peter of Tacoma's Willamette Dental office, Porsche. She had a fate for me, too.

Rewind: Several weeks ago I actually called my insurance provider to identify Willamette Dental as in-network (i.e. accessible and covered). I thanked the insurance operator, hung up and called Willamette's operator line to schedule the appointment. I knew the care wouldn't be amazing when the the Willamette operator asked me which state I was in. I felt like I was calling Dell customer support.

Neither the insurance operator or the Willamette operator let me know that I needed to go online and change my preferred dental provider before the appointment. Porsche, in her wisdom, did.

She looked at my insurance card and said, "Nope. We'll have to reschedule. We're not the preferred dental provider. It says Gentle Dental is."

"Well, Gentle Dental wasn't so gentle, and that's why I'm here," I replied.

She wouldn't let me past the pearly gates. I asked if I could call my insurance company or use her computer to make the change. She declined and said I should just call from home because the system didn't work in real time. If I'm the person with authority to make the change, it's sort of obnoxious that I couldn't make the change when I was at the physical location of the service.

Frankly, at 7:10 a.m., after hearing Harry's story and watching his rejection, after waiting in my car for 10 minutes...

I was sick of this shit.

I stormed out. I wasn't rescheduling. I was changing my dental plan with my company, and that's what I did the next day. My teeth will have to suffer the holidays, and I'll be able to choose a different dentist on Jan. 2, 2010.

Personally, I'm for a public option to compete with private health care options. After experiences like this, I'm not concerned about lower quality of health care. It's already here. Trust me, when you can't get access to care when you're insured because of bureaucracies, something needs to change. Health care, across medical, dental and vision is conglomerating like media and so whether or not government creates a massive health care program, "private" companies already are.

We already have public options for other industries to compete with private companies. Think public schools vs. private schools. Think home insurance. I was happy to have an FHA option, otherwise I wouldn't have bought a house. I'm sure a lot of people would like to have access to affordable health care insurance, so I hope a public option passes.

To flip an argument on its head, maybe the public option will actually push the quality of the private sector. I hope this all happens soon because I'll likely have another dentist appointment in early 2010.