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Mark Steyn On The Problem With Prescriptions And Newt’s Moon Race

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EM: And I get a chance to talk to Mark Steyn, Columnist To the World at Mark, great to speak with you tonight.

MS: Hey, great to be with you, Ed.

EM: Now I want to get to the race, and I want to get to the Moon as well. I really want to get to the Moon, but before we go there, Mark, I have to tell you, you have a great column this week on Sick Nation. And the reason why I say this, over at, also at National Review, is because I can relate to what you were writing about. Now you were writing in this column about going to the pharmacy after having a friend come out of the hospital, and sort of getting the run around at the pharmacy because of insurance issues, because of communication issues dealing with the prescription, and finding out in the end that it would have just been easier to pull out the credit card and get the thing over with. Now my wife has several chronic conditions, and I myself have become a hobbyist in pharmacology. And I’m studying up for my Master’s degree, I guess in pharmacology. But I’ve been through what you were writing about. And you’re right. I mean, it’s a very frustrating experience.

MS: Yeah, I write in that column, basically, about the experience after spending, whatever it was, fourteen hours in emergency, then spending the next five hours trying to procure, I think it was $18 dollars worth of pills from Kinney Drugs. I personally am a great believer in being a cash customer. My most pleasant experiences in the United States, and around the world at pharmacies and in hospitals, have been as a cash customer, because when you’re paying cash, you get treated as a customer.

EM: Right.

MS: And I think one of the problems with…and I think in a strange way, the genius of the government has been to so distort the American medical system, that we think it entirely normal now that it should be some sort of insurance third party transaction to buy a bottle of aspirin. And I think that is basically just softening us up for the inevitable government takeover. But I’m astonished at how cumbersome and bureaucratic it is just to fill a prescription now in the United States by comparison with countries that Americans for most of their history have thought of as backward and more primitive in these things.

EM: I completely agree with you on this, and we just went through an experience where we had to change pharmacies, because the insurance company decided it didn’t like the pharmacy that we’d been with for years, same insurance companies.

MS: Right, right.

EM: In fact, both of us, we have separate insurance policies, and both of them use the same pharmacy service for handling these transactions. And since that pharmacy serves…it’s not even the company that I do business with for either myself or my wife in health insurance. It’s the company that those insurance companies do business with, happen to be the same business, decided they didn’t like the pharmacy that we’ve been using for years. And so we had to change pharmacies, and we had to go through all of this all over again, going through all the rigmarole. And some of these things are expensive. But when you’re going through this process, and you find out, and I found out from my medications, that basically it would have been just easier for me to just pay cash and do the 90 day…it’s actually cheaper for me to pay cash and do a 90 day prescription refill than it is to go through my insurance policy.

MS: Yeah, and that’s one reason I notice… I mean, we talk about pharmacies as if these guys are actually just sort of mixing powders and potions that way they were a few decades back. But in fact, they’re not. They’re just basically taking a bottle with 600 pills in and taking out 30 of them and putting them into a smaller bottle and handing them to you. So it shouldn’t take a long time. And I noticed that by comparison with most other countries now, the lines and the time it takes to get a prescription filled here are longer than almost anywhere else in the developed world. And the reason is because the pharmacists aren’t doing anything with the pills. They’re sort of checking the paperwork to determine your right of access to the pills. And I was just struck by this, because as I write in that column, I was sitting there while my friend’s paperwork and her insurance number, and all the rest, were being checked out by Kinney Drugs. And I looked at the cars behind us in the drive-thru lane, and I added up the opportunity cost. And it seems to me it’s a very good example of what is the challenge facing this country, and the thing that our presidential candidates aren’t really talking about, which is the whole damn place is seizing up. Everything is longer and slower, and encumbered with paperwork and bureaucracy like barnacles on the rusting hulk.

EM: And I think this gets into some of the things that we might be talking about over the next several months about what the proper role of health care reform should have been, what the proper method of health care reform should have been, which is to remove a lot of these third-party middlemen that seem to be mucking up the works as you describe brilliantly in your column at And I was just struck by that column, because I’ve been through that with my wife especially, coming out of the hospital on a number of occasions where the orders were sent to the pharmacy, they never got there, or they didn’t get processed right because of insurance issues, and you end up screaming at a pharmacist, who’s really not the problem.

MS: But yes, and what’s interesting about that is if you price your time, even if you price it at kind of minimum wage, the amount of time it takes, this is my problem, that everywhere you look now, you’re seeing a remorseless transfer of time, and time is money, of time and money from the productive class to the kind of bureaucratic sclerosis class.

EM: Yeah, exactly.

MS: And we have to do something about that. And you’re right. Third-party, pills, basic pills should not be an insurance issue. That’s like, as one of my readers said to me, that’s like using your car insurance to pay for wiper fluid. I mean, it’s not something that should be…we need to start rethinking some of these things, because they’re deforming the basic relationship between the supplier and the customer.

EM: Mark Steyn, I also want to ask you about Newt Gingrich’s promise in Florida. I’m going to switch gears here, Newt Gingrich’s promise in Florida that he’s going to open up a Moon base by the end of his second term.

MS: Right.

EM: …which I think, you know, under other circumstances, I think that would be a bold vision for the future, a challenge that would excite the generations, and get people involved in the sciences, and all that sort of thing, like it did in the early 1960s with the Apollo Moon program. But we didn’t have $15 trillion dollars worth of debt in the Apollo Moon program, and is that really the message that we want to be sending out in…

MS: No, no. I mean at first, I thought it was a good idea, because the way things are going, we’re going to need, circa the end of his second term, we’re going to need somewhere to flee to. And the problem with this, of course, was that he said and if we have a Lunar colony, and they get 13,000 people up there, where it’s going to become the 51st state. Newt wants to make the Moon the 51st state. He’s applying, you know, the same rules they had in Dakota territory and so forth.

EM: Sure.

MS: And I bumped into Laura Ingalls Wilder, the famous author the other day, and she’s already working on Little House On The Crater. So I think it’s got that right pioneer spirit about it. So good luck with that, Newt. It seems the priority at the moment.

EM: Well, and it’s always good politics to talk space program in Florida. It’s always good politics. And I grew up in the space program. My father was involved in the space program for 30 years. And so I understand the vision, the challenges, and the rewards from a program like that. But when this was going on, when it started off in 1961, 1960, we weren’t $15 trillion dollars in debt.

MS: No, and the reality is that if you think about that now, that the 1969 Moon shot moment, I have a little bit in my book about that, that in a sense, it’s a peak of human achievement. And when you start thinking about that, about somebody landing on the Moon right now planting the American flag on the Moon, it’s kind of hard to imagine. We’ve gotten a bit like 19th Century date farmers around Nasiriyah, in what’s now Iraq, they know that the great Ziggurat of Ur is around here somewhere under the sand. But it’s hard to imagine anybody actually getting up and building that today. And I think that’s the problem. So Newt is right to say this is a country that dreams big dreams. But when you’re dreaming big…and we should be back to be dreaming big dreams. But we can’t do that until we stop being broke. When you’re broke, you can’t go to the Moon. It’s as simple as that.

EM: Mark Steyn, shouldn’t the big dream here right now be paying off the national debt? Because honestly, that sounds like fantasy to a lot of people?

MS: Yes, I think so, in part because…well, I think there’s two stages. First, you’ve got to stop spending.

EM: Yes.

MS: I mean, when you’re spending a couple of trillion dollars in the federal budget each year, when you’re spending $188 million dollars an hour every hour of every day that you don’t have, that’s the priority. What kind of Moon rocket is a country that’s blowing that kind of cash likely to come up with?

EM: That’s exactly correct. Mark Steyn,, Columnist To the World, thank you so much for being with us.

End of interview.


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