Funny Business

Column by Paul Hein.

Exclusive to STR

It’s safe to say that, as businesses go, Uncle Sam’s (NOT Sam’s Club!) is, by far, the biggest. It is also, by far, the strangest.

We all deal with businesses every day, and without exception, they conduct themselves differently from Uncle.

For instance: You can buy what you want, when you want it. If you want a new pair of socks, you can go to any number of stores and buy the pair that suits you, any time the store is open, which is most of the time—perhaps even in the evening. If the pair you select is more expensive than you think it should be, you can try another store. You can order the socks online, without leaving your home, in your underwear, at 3:00 a.m., if you wish.

Not so with Uncle’s operation. No doubt you have noticed the numerous, and obnoxious, ads for supplemental medical insurance currently appearing on television. Have you wondered why such ads are so numerous at this time? It is because Uncle’s insurance, unlike that of other companies, is only available at certain times of the year, like a seasonal crop.

I should clarify my statement that it is Uncle’s insurance. Sam does not sell you insurance directly. Rather, he directs you to other companies, who sell you the insurance and share the profits with Uncle. These other companies, I am pretty sure, also make generous campaign contributions to Uncle’s employees, and those who aspire to replace them.

The vendor of socks cannot tell you that you can only buy them at a certain time, and that, during that time, you MUST buy them, or he will punish you if you don’t. Uncle’s operation does precisely that, as I have discovered to my chagrin and annoyance.

For instance: I do not recall being told, in 2006, that I MUST purchase insurance that covered drug costs. My annual expense for drugs then was less than $50; it remains so today. Had I added the drug coverage to my insurance, the extra premium would have exceeded whatever benefits might result. At the time I considered it foolish to purchase insurance I didn’t need or want which would cost more than its benefits. I still do. What I’ve learned is that what I want doesn’t count.

I recently upgraded—or downgraded?--my Medicare supplement, when I realized that my wife’s policy, with the same company, and including drug coverage, was about one-third the cost of my own, which did not include drug coverage. My new policy includes drug coverage, whether I wanted or needed it or not. Ah, but the gnomes of the insurance business were quick to discover that I had spent the last eleven years WITHOUT THE REQUIRED PRESCRIPTION DRUG COVERAGE! You might have felt the earth shake when this egregious misbehavior on my point was unearthed.

The upshot is that I must now pay a monthly fine of $44.50 as atonement for my sin. A funny business indeed! For not buying something neither needed nor wanted, one must now purchase a policy for such unwanted/unneeded services, and, in addition, pay a monthly fine for not having done so eleven years ago. Ah, to live in the land of the free!

Sam seems to have a particular penchant for insurance. Medicare is another compulsory health insurance program. Somehow the republic survived during all those years prior to Medicare, but that must have been pure luck. Similarly, within my lifetime, people could operate their automobiles without insurance, but again, the fact that civilization eked out an existence in those days must have been a miracle. Today, enlightened, we hasten to purchase automobile insurance, inspired, perhaps, by the fact that if we don’t, Sam, or his local version, will punish us.

Well, I’ve got to run. I just received notice that I have until 10:26:33 tonight to purchase socks (although I don’t need any more socks). The socks must provide approved coverage, and will carry a surcharge, because I did not purchase such socks prior to the Summer solstice. I hasten to comply, being a good citizen, and realizing that my sock drawer’s contents play a role in making this country a better place to live.

Especially if you sell insurance or socks!

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Paul Hein's picture
Columns on STR: 150


Jim Davies's picture

Yet another fine piece, Paul. I don't know if you're familiar with, but what you wrote here is very compatible with it.  I take part in the PBS News Hour forum online, whose whole unstated assumption is that the State rightfully exists; I have a lot of fun puncturing that absurd premise and often refer participants to it if they show signs of peeping over the edge of the statist box.
I'll watch for an opportunity to refer them to your "Funny Business." It introduces the absurdity of compulsion very well.