I got to thinking about health care on a real personal level last night while picking up a prescription for ear drops to quell the ache developed over the past couple days.
After forking over my $10 co-pay, I asked the pharmacist, who offered that she’d filled quite a few of those prescriptions lately, how much the tiny bottle of something called Ciprodex would cost if I didn’t have a prescription. $157 came the answer. I should’ve been sitting down. My knees got weak at the price quote.
Thank goodness for health insurance. But what about someone without it? Would they have to go with an aching ear until it got so bad they ended up in the ER of the local hospital? That’s where hundreds of millions of state tax dollars go to underwrite the uninsured in hospitals; known as Uncompensated Care. (I wonder whether what the critics are calling “Obamacare” will change any of this). To say nothing of the doctor’s office visit where my ailment was diagnosed by a nurse practitioner who also dug out some buildup in there with all the delicacy of an interrogator at Guantanamo. It cost me $15 out of pocket for the co-pay for the visit; $270 I’m told if I didn’t have insurance.
I remembered back to when my kids were young and we were constantly filling prescriptions for ear infections and the like. I was with the Trenton Times then, and our insurance initially had a $1 co-pay for drugs; increasing to $2 later on. This was in the ’80s and early ’90s. I don’t recall having co-pays for doctor’s office visits back then.
But one thing we didn’t have among a rather sizeable editorial staff was dental benefits.
At the occasional staff meeting where the publisher, Richard Bilotti, would make various pronouncements — like our sale to the Newhouse chain for example — or offer updates about this company policy or that, one reporter would always pipe up and ask whether we would be getting dental benefits anytime soon.
The raised hand and query invariably came from Tom Martello, now the Pulitzer Prize winning State House bureau chief of the Star-Ledger. The publisher would dance around the question with something akin to a “maybe someday” or “possibly when business improves” or some such. Tom would warn that if we didn’t get something soon, our dear readers and the folks we covered would be referring to us not as the Trenton Times, but as “the Toothless Times.”
Which reminds me. I have Tom to thank for The Times picking up the tab when I broke one of my front teeth in an outfield collision with another reporter buddy, Ian Shearn, when we were playing a charity softball game with the radio station WPST on a sunny summer Sunday.
Our executive editor and some of us were on live radio discussing the big game when Tom piped up again, asking good-naturedly whether the paper was going to pay to replace my broken tooth. Sure thing, came the answer from our Exec Editor, Linda Cunningham. “Have the work done and bring me the bill.” Tom reminded her she was on live radio and reminded me to bring in the bill, which I did.
Tom even today some 20-plus years later still reminds me that I have him to thank for whatever craggy smile I’m able to muster. And even today when we see each other and reminisce about the days of yore, he’ll still refer to the daily paper where so many of us cut our teeth as the Toothless Times.