Health Tips for 1994

The enormous challenge of revamping our nation's health care system has congressional leaders promising to work harder than ever. Some are even considering returning to work after lunches. Others are promising more fact-finding trips to beach resorts and lengthy, one-on-one interviews with experts in the bartending industry.

No one can say what a revised system may look like, but as we consumers brace for a possible new structure of health care delivery ("Hey, this medicine is cold and it took more than 30 minutes to get here, so I don't have to pay, right?"), we may need to turn to alternative methods to ensure the same level of quality care.

Because of recent events in my own life, I have come across an unexpected source of low-cost health care. It's not in any of the White House proposals, even though it has been an established part of the American medical system for more than 200 years. I'm talking about the well-established, yet underutilized, system of American veterinary medicine.

Now before you scoff at veterinary care for humans (What? You've scoffed already?), let me remind you that the veterinary industry is staffed by the same kind of highly qualified health professionals as your regular AMA types. Animal doctors study just as hard and take just as many courses as regular doctors. So what if medical students study six years longer. Can they really learn that much more by interning at a hospital? Of course not.

A veterinarian will treat you with the same courtesy and respect afforded to all patients. Probably more, since you don't have to be picked up and put on the table. And the stethoscope will never be cold - it just came off a warm golden retriever.

Your average visit to the vet costs less than half of a visit to your regular doctor. Granted, the nurse may hold you firmly by the nape of your neck when checking for ticks, but for the money you're saving, it's worth a little discomfort (and the occasional distemper shot).

The waiting room is just as large and comfortable, and there's not that much dog saliva on the magazines. And be honest, who would you rather wait next to: some guy with red eyes, a runny nose, and a hacking cough - or a cute little puppy?

Just think of the medical advantages and peace of mind that come from regular veterinary care. You'll never worry about heartworms. (Can your current physician promise that?) You'll be held and comforted in your sickness. (Be honest. When you get a shot now, does your doctor scratch you behind the ears and tell you how good you've been?) Also, all those medicines that have been denied you are now readily available. Such as feline laxatives.

Speaking of medicine, most animal drugs are almost identical to human ones. Maybe a couple of different ingredients, but not so's you'd notice. Sure, the pills may be a little larger and the needles a lot longer but, again, think of the extra money you'll be able to spend (as soon as you get rid of that nagging urge to chase cars).

And if you need to stay overnight for observation you don't have to go to a hospital. You can stay right in the vet's the back.

Unfortunately, this innovative and cost-saving approach faces an uphill battle in Congress. And frankly, the first legislative hearing on the subject didn't go very well. It seems that one of the veterinarians testifying before the House Select Committee on Health Resources only got about halfway through the questioning before he scrambled out of his chair and bit Rep. Bob Dornan on the leg. It could have been worse, some say, if the room had been carpeted. But as it was, the little guy couldn't get up much speed because his toenails kept clicking and sliding on the hardwood floor.

Despite this minor setback, proponents of the idea are still hopeful. How can you turn your back on quality health care and cost savings, they ask, when a new system is already in place, just a stone's throw away. No, leave it there. No, don't bring the stone back. Just leave it where I threw it. No, we're not playing fetch...Sit. Stay.

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