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New prescription for TV's 'House': A dose of reality

October 26, 2009 | 12:03 pm

I had surgery not long ago, and the actual surgery itself didn’t take a fraction as much time as all the insurance wrangling and worrying did.

At one point, when I was trying to negotiate the massive gap between what the out-of-network anesthesiologists charge and what my insurance would pay, I finally said that I’d just bite down on a wooden spoon during the surgery –- and I’d bring my own spoon, so I wouldn't get charged for that, too.

Whatever the doctor thought, I figured I couldn’t get the surgery until I’d figured out how much I’d have to pay, and whether I could afford it –- or whether I should just wait until things got so bad I’d just check into the emergency room, and they’d have to pay for it.

But all of it gave me an idea.

"House" is a rare TV show I’ve watched with pleasure, in part because there’s the splendid Hugh Laurie, and in larger part because it’s so much like my beloved Sherlock Holmes: House/Holmes, aided or on occasion challenged by Wilson/Watson, solves the most mystifying conundrums in the world of medicine/crime.

But the series is starting to get a wee bit stale, and I think I know how to fix it, and fix it in a way that will illuminate the problems of our present healthcare system, too.

Every show involves massive amounts of medical diagnostics and treatment –- MRIs galore, CAT scans, arcane tests I’ve never heard of, as the patient lies expensively tethered to monitors and tubes for weeks at a time.

And I don’t think I’ve ever heard any test the doctors have ordered not being done because of how much it costs.

TV isn’t supposed to be realistic, but even a good drama could use a little more drama. So here’s my idea: a new addition to the regular cast. The head guy in the hospital's insurance office.

What insurance policy would pay for all that treatment and hospital time? What hospital could pick up the tab for all of that platinum care? When the opponents of healthcare reform moan about "rationed care," all I can say is that it’s already rationed: I have a lifetime dollar-figure cap. When I hit that, they unplug me and roll me out the door, unless I can pay the tab myself.

So if "House" is going to treat us to real diseases and diagnoses, it ought to show us some real insurance controversies. The cast-member naysayer and House could mix it up, fight over that third MRI in a week, come to blows, make up over beers -– all about deductibles and out-of-network coverage. And you’re welcome, Fox TV –- you can send the check to me right here.

[While I have the attention of the health-minded, I’d like to quibble with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention websites exhorting the potentially flu-stricken to "cough or sneeze into your elbow." This, as the good doctors know, is physiologically all but impossible. In a world where eardrops have to come with instructions to users to put the drops in the ear, better they should be telling people to sneeze or cough into the crook of the arm. And, yes, that either arm will do.]

-- Patt Morrison

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