Logic of the Bean Counters

One of the banes of modern society is the generally despised bean counter. In case you don’t know what I’m talking about, let me tell you a story that actually happened.

During the 1970s, I did quite a bit of business with an aerospace company that, for obvious reasons, will not be named. But you would recognize it if I mentioned it. Anyway, I built models for them and also painted quite a lot of manufactured models when they needed a custom color scheme or markings for a sales proposal.

The reason they did business with me (and several other model-builders) was that they did not have an in-house model shop. They still don’t. It happened one day that they needed a model built yesterday and no one was available to do the job. So, they talked an employee…who built models as a hobby, did an excellent job but didn’t want to build for pay…into building this desperately needed model. They set him up with a bench along with all the necessary equipment and our modeler went to work.

A few days later, one of the company employees was giving the cook’s tour to a pair of efficiency experts, otherwise known as bean counters. As they passed the modeler’s bench, with the modeler happily working away, one of them inquired as to what he was doing. Should’ve been obvious, of course, but some people are just a little dense. After it was explained to him, the next question was “How long is it going to take?”

“About a hundred hours” was the response.

At that, the bean counters looked at each other, looked back at the model-builder, turned to the company tour guide and said “You know, it you put 25 men on that, it will only take four hours.”

To them it made perfect sense because it was strictly a numbers game. One man takes a hundred hours. But if you put 25 men on it, 100 divided by 25 equals 4. It’s obvious. Isn’t it?

What they failed to understand was that first you required a model-builder, someone who understood how to build a model. Secondly, it was basically a one-man job and there was no practical way to cut the amount of time involved. By putting 25 men on the job, 24 would’ve set around watching one man build it, thereby turning a 100-hour project into a 2500-hour project.

If you’re wondering where I’m going with this, you won’t much longer. A local talk show was dealing with that wonderful ObamaCare bill currently being fought over in the halls of Congress and various Town Halls. Raucous doesn’t begin to describe the debate, which has reached the level of shouting matches and invitation-only Town Halls. I just read that one Congressman is now resorting to a telephone Town Hall. How that one works, I haven’t a clue.

Along the way, the talk show host, in an effort to show the potential for reducing the level of benefits after this elephant (For those who don’t know, an elephant is a mouse built to government specs.) is enacted said “Think about this. Someone gets the bright idea that if we make people wait 8 weeks to get their cancer treatment instead of two weeks, we can knock another $8 Billion out of this package.”

Think it can’t happen? Think again. Then ask any doctor how much his reimbursements from Medicare have shrunk. Ask any Senior Citizen (what a horrible phrase) how much their co-pays have increased over the years, especially the annual deductible they have to cough up before they receive any benefits at all. And let’s not overlook the number of doctors who no longer accept Medicare at all, leaving their patients looking for a new doctor. Maybe they’ll find a new doctor and maybe not, because many doctors who still accept Medicare are no longer accepting new patients.

“But,” you say, “they all say that you won’t notice any changes in your health coverage, especially if you’re happy with what you have. We have to do something to contain costs.” Uh-huh. Sure. And pigs fly, too. If you believe that, then be sure you get a video of the pig that just flew past my window doing Immelman loops and wingovers. That definitely needs to be the lead story on the ten o’clock news!

There are only two ways to contain costs. Reduce the amount of money paid out to doctors, hospitals, etc., or reduce the number of people seeking health care.

Cutting payouts to providers of all stripes will not be the obvious and first step. The mere threat of some form of health care legislation being passed is already having an effect. Blue Cross/Blue Shield of Texas recently announced the termination of 183 employees and the combining of some job responsibilities. The reason for this little move? Because of the need to contain costs in view of pending health care legislation. Spend a quick ten seconds on Google and you will discover that BC/BS operations in many states are eliminating employees as well.

“Hey! That’s a good thing,” you say, “those nasty old insurance companies are just in it for the money.” True enough, but the alternative, as it stands now, is cradle-to-the-grave government-run health care ala Canada and Great Britain. Of course there is a third choice. Eliminate the insurance companies, let the costs drop back to where they should be and pay cash.

That third choice ain’t gonna happen anytime soon, so we’re stuck with the disaster that ObamaCare will be if Congress manages to ram it down our throats.

There are already problems with physician shortages, particularly where primary care physicians are concerned. You can go to both here and here for informative articles on current and projected shortages.

The sites listed belong to the Atlanta Metro News and Examiner/Dallas. One particularly alarming statistic was a projection in May that primary care income will decline some 15%-20% under the ObamaCare proposal. Who knows how much worse it will be by the time a final bill is written. And don’t forget to Google JAMA (Journal of the American Medical Association) for even more supporting statistics.

If the nationalization of the American healthcare system is carried to fruition, you can bet your Justin Boots that a substantial percentage of doctors will opt to retire rather than be told how little money they will be permitted to earn. If that isn’t enough, would anyone care to project how many more doctors will throw in the towel after panels of bureaucrats begin controlling what kind of treatment they’re allowed to extend to any given patient?

And just how will these panels determine who gets what care? By determining the cost effectiveness of the treatment when balanced against the age of the patient, overall medical condition, medical history and whether or not they’re a contributing member of society. In other words, the numbers will determine your treatment. Incidentally, that also has the effect of reducing the number of people receiving health care. If you go back to the top of this missive and refresh your memory, it won’t take long to understand that those cold, impersonal numbers are the purview of efficiency experts. Those logical bean counters, in other words.

When it comes to the medical care that you receive, this entire argument boils down to one very simple question: Do you want bean counters controlling your life by reducing your medical care to a set of numbers?

I don’t.

Richard Marmo

August 31, 2009

The Daily Reckoning