05/17/2013 10:23 am ET Updated Jul 17, 2013

Gunmen, Robbery and Obamacare

As Christmas 2012 approached and the holiday season began to build in earnest, one man wasn't thinking of the holidays. He was planning an armed robbery.

The man walked to his local convenience store, told the clerk that he had a gun and he was robbing the place. Receiving the cash register contents, the man fled the store. Apparently not satisfied with the attention his deed garnered, the very next afternoon, the same man robbed a nearby bank. Claiming to have a weapon and demanding cash, the 'desperado' fled the bank. The conclusion of the crime spree is related by the local newspaper.

"...But nearly 10 minutes later, after Lackawanna County 911 dispatchers broadcast details about his physical description, city police spotted [the robber] walking in the 200 block of Harrison Avenue.
After officers ordered him to get on the ground, they noticed an "extremely large amount of U.S. currency bulging" from his sweatshirt pocket. Then, [the robber] confessed to the bank heist.
"You got me. I did it. I robbed the bank," he said...."

Fast forward to this month. I found myself being wheeled into the emergency room for a possible stroke or heart attack. After several days in hospital, both options were ruled out. However, I was immediately aware of just how fortunate I was to have health insurance and that military hospitals were completely different creatures from the civilian variety.

My care at the local Geisinger Community Medical Center was outstanding. Employee morale was high and at every level the providers and staff did their best to make a bad situation professional and better. The difference in hospitals was not the building or its staff. The huge difference was the patient. The emergency room was very busy and beds overflowed into the hallway. With some background in ERs, the bustle and professionalism reassured me. What hit me like a brick was the fear displayed on many people's faces as patients and loved ones discussed the financial costs.

Never mentioned by the hospital staff, lost wages and hospital bills were discussions that often seemed to surmount whatever the medical reason that had brought people to the hospital. These concerns are never seen in military hospitals and patients. I seldom heard cost considerations discussed in the emergency rooms of other industrialized nations. It was a rude shock to confront the reality of a failed US healthcare system. The elderly and very poor seemed little concerned. Often, others seemed clearly frightened.

I came to know a patient fairly well during my hospitalization. The patient's tale stood as a classic example of very convoluted and very expensive US healthcare. The patient presented at the ER with serious symptoms and conditions. Having worked in the past at manual or semi-skilled work, now, because of serious illness, this patient was unable to work. Reduced to living free in an apartment provided by his former landlord, a myriad of challenges presented themselves. Being mid-life rather than elderly, little assistance was available to guide the patient through the process. Not familiar with bureaucracy and less than adept with reading the voluminous material and lacking a computer or any computer skills, the patient was a pawn in the system. Indeed, the patient claimed to possess no money to purchase vital medicines. Having applied for disability, essential paperwork was lacking. No medicine meant further healthcare risks and resulted in the emergency trip to the hospital.

Tragic, what does any of this tale have to do with robbery? Recently, the bank robber was sentenced to 62 to 130 months in state prison. According to the Scranton Times-Tribune story, the robber:

"... lost his disability income and could no longer afford his medications to treat his bipolar disorder, signalling a "recipe for disaster," his public defender, Cathy Tully, said...."

The two tales graphically illustrate how the US economy squanders vast resources and dollars through an inadequate and poorly designed healthcare system. Costly emergency room and hospital care combined with filling prisons with individuals literally seeking healthcare are but two examples of what is wrong.

Fearing someone may get something for nothing and scam the system, we punish the least among us who deserve respect and contribute to society as best they are able. Yes, there are scammers and yes, there are people playing the system. Those people will always be there. In a futile attempt to punish a literal few, US society is punishing every taxpayer and those who deserve help the most.

Full Obamacare cannot come soon enough. Not perfect but it will provide a modicum of justice and economic sanity.