David Sedaris Talks Health Reform, Kidney Stones And Asks: Was Hitler Really Known For His Healthcare Plan?

[On Tuesday], The New Yorker conducted a live chat with author David Sedaris. I thought I'd be a smart ass and send him a wildly inappropriate question about healthcare and the socio-economic divide. You know, the type of question humorists dream of answering.


As it turns out, I wasn't the only one with healthcare on the mind. Another lady submitted a much more thoughtful, articulate question. Since David has spent time in both America and France, she asked him to compare the two countries' healthcare systems.

As one constantly reads and hears so much about the arcane, bureaucratic language of healthcare reform, oftentimes it takes a personal anecdote to ground the debate again. Sedaris doesn't strike me as an ideologue, so I wanted to share his personal story as an illustration of how healthcare reform will ultimately result in one of two scenarios. Either Americans will be unable to afford medical care, and they’ll continue to suffer in quiet desperation, or Congress will enact meaningful reform that will grant Americans access to affordable care, and the precious byproduct of human dignity.

Allow me to answer with kidney stones. I had my first one at the age of 34. At the time I was living in New York, and had no health insurance. Never in my life had I experienced such pain, but I couldn't afford to go to the hospital, and so I passed it at home, not knowing until the end what it actually was. (I thought I was delivering Satan’s baby through my penis.)

I had my second kidney stone seven years later, in Paris. It was ten o'clock in the morning, and after looking at my options in the phone book, I took the metro to a hospital in the 15th. Two minutes after walking through the door, I was in a private room. Delicious, mind-numbing drugs were delivered to my blood stream by way of a tube and life was beautiful. I was in the hospital for four hours, and as I was leaving, I asked the receptionist how I was supposed to pay.

"Oh," she said, "We'll send you a statement."

"But you never even asked me my name."

"Really?"

A few weeks later I got a bill for the equivalent of seventy dollars, this because I'm not a French citizen, and am therefore not entitled to free care.

I got my third kidney stone a few months ago, while on a lecture tour of the United States. The hospital I went to was in Westchester county and the service was outstanding. Maybe I arrived at the slowest time, but, like in France, I was waited on immediately, and the doctor and nurses could not have been more pleasant. Again I was there for four hours, though this time the bill came to $5,800. Not including medicine.

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