What if 911 Was Run by Health Insurers?

by Brad Cotton, M.D.

What if 911 was run the way we do health care in the U.S.? Much of the following is taken from J. Wesley Boyd, M.D., Ph.D. “Health Care Blues—or, Why Exactly Don’t We Have Single-Payer National Health Insurance” ( Physicians for a National Health Program communiqué 1 Nov. 2011)

“Is this 911?”

“Yes.”

“I have an armed intruder in my house. Please send the police right away. I’m afraid he’s going to kill us all.”

“I’m sorry. From our database, I see the household you are calling from does not have anyone who is employed and therefore you are not entitled to police protection. You’ll have to fend off the intruder yourself. Bye.” (Click)

Or imagine this scenario, which might hit a bit closer to home for many of us with unaffordable and inadequate underinsurance: 

“Is this 911?”

“Yes.”

“I have an armed intruder in my house. Please send the police right away. I’m afraid he’s going to kill us all.”

“I see from our database that your employment provides you with our Best Blue police coverage. Best Blue is a wonderful protection plan. We will be able to send an officer out just as soon as we receive your credit card number for your $10 co-pay. Also, once the officer arrives—assuming your credit card payment is approved by MasterCard—he will be able to use his revolver to stop the intruder but not his shotgun. You’ll have to pay the full cost of shotgun coverage yourself. With the Blue plan, the officer can pursue a suspect on foot free of charge to you, but if the officer needs to pursue in his cruiser, you would have to foot (I’m so sorry for the pun) that bill yourself. Also, we would not be able to provide you with the aerial support that we provide our Gold members but, don’t worry, almost nobody needs that kind of service. And finally, as it states on page 28 of your coverage manual, Blue coverage does assume you are at least a Brown Belt in Karate, so statistically you would be able to fend off intruders half of the time by yourself…”

 Sounds pretty bizarre, right? But we Americans accept the same reasoning all of the time with respect to our health care coverage. And although the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (PPACA) will decrease from 50 million to about 30 million those us with no coverage, as in the first caller above who gets only “Bye” and a (Click) from 911, the current model of reform shovels your tax dollars directly into the Boardroom and stockholders of the “Best Blue” insurance company. Perhaps the health insurers are the armed intruders threatening our lives?


We can do better. Canada takes care of all her citizens, every single one at half the cost and with better results. How? Well, for starters they are not wasting 31% of every health care dollar on the slimy “Best Blue” health insurers as we do. Canada has more primary care Docs per capita that we do, furthermore, Canadians see their Doc more often receiving better care than we do.


Come on down to the Scioto Valley Coffeehouse, 216 West Main 6 PM Sunday 15 January to see “Healthcare: The Movie” featuring interviews with Canadians about their highly patient-rated health care system. We could get started on the path to do as well as Canada so easily. Just go to the Medicare statutes and erase all references to Americans over age 65. Replace with “eligible at birth”.  Kurt Bateman, Director of the Ohio Single Payer Action Network and myself, member of Physicians for a National Health Program will be available to field discussion.


Martin Luther King, whose birthday we observe this month, reminds us access to health care is not a “policy-wonk” political and academic debatable topic, it is a moral question. How we take care of the “least of these” ( Matthew 25:40) reflects on our Christian character: “ Of all the forms of inequality, injustice in health care is the most shocking and  inhumane.”