Our health care system has been compared to lots of things, which made me wonder: What if the news industry were like our unreformed health care system?
We Americans have the greatest news care system in the world, and we in journalism are proud of our cutting-edge punditry.
Columnists in other countries simply scribble illegibly in notebooks, but here in the United States we administer CAT scans to interviewees, just to rule out the chance that our subject is dead.
Expensive, yes — but we must never settle for second-best.
But wait! Before reading this column, please fill out this 18-page questionnaire. And, if you've already done that, you only have to fill out seven more pages.
No, no, you're mixing up the forms. Those are the ones for Maureen Dowd's column; you'll find David Brooks' forms on the right and Paul Krugman's on the left. You must file separate paperwork to read each one.
Good. Now the co-pay, please.
Oh, it doesn't matter that you already submitted your co-pay for another column. We work independently.
By the way, columns like this one about health care reform are out-of-network. Your insurance plan fully covers columns about many important topics, like nephrology and Gregorian chant. But politics, health care, international affairs and anything that I might actually write about are all out-of-network.
So I'll be billing you soon. I'll tell you how much after you've read the column. The invoice will detail the cost codes, in cuneiform.
Typically, out-of-network benefits will provide substantial reimbursement for nouns, especially subjects. But you're on your own with predicates. In particular, insurers stipulate that adjectives and adverbs are cosmetic and at your own expense.
A side note: Those with pre-existing conditions that may lead to excessive consumption of news may be excluded from coverage. An example of a pre-existing condition is literacy.
Upon submitting an initial claim to your insurance company, you will find it summarily rejected. If you wish to appeal, call the company's 800 number.
No one will ever actually answer, but you'll have the satisfaction of dialing a number and being placed on indefinite hold. Then you'll hear a human voice say, "This is Jennifer, may I hel-- " And the line will go dead, enabling you to start over.
Such telephone systems are an effective way to reduce the costs both of hiring and of appeals. The aim is to lower premiums for you, the consumer — and it's all about you.
By the way, if this were December, the rest of the column fee might be covered by your news insurance. But it's early in the year, and you haven't met your annual deductible yet.
Of course, none of this applies if you are over 65, poor or a veteran. In those cases, you get single-payer news coverage financed by the government, through Newsicare, Newsicaid or the VA.
For those of you with flex- spending plans, you may seek reimbursement from your pre-tax "news care spending account."
Another miracle of simplicity! In addition to bills from me, you'll also receive bills from your newspaper, the forest products company that makes the newsprint, and the copy editor for this column. Don't forget to pay the copy editor, or future columns will omit headlines.
I'm trying to be polite because, of course, if you don't like this column, you may sue me. Malpractice suits are a part of the landscape, resulting in defensive journalism (that's why we administer those CAT scans). For your convenience, I just add the cost of malpractice insurance and defensive journalism onto your bill.
Speaking of which, the bill for this column is $1,681.63. I appreciate your prompt payment. You can send your reimbursement to me in unmarked bills.
Ah, you noticed I didn't actually get to discuss health reform?
Frankly, that's because I'm too busy dealing with the news insurance companies to practice any journalism.
These days, gosh darn it, I have time only to bill readers.
THE NEW YORK TIMES NEWS SERVICE