In Terms of Medical Care, Even a Dog Is Better Off

Keith Frohreich is a writer in Anaheim Hills.

The phone call rattled my nerves. The previous day we had taken our child for his annual physical. Was the call regarding the test results? No, the chirpy office worker just wondered how Dutch, our beloved golden retriever, was doing.

Excuse me, I said, you want to know how Dutch is doing? Yes, she said. Just a minute, I'll ask him, I wish I had said.

After assuring her of Dutch's good health, I hung up, taken aback both by the call and our lighter bank account -- $200-plus for lab tests and shots. The contrast couldn't be starker. Medically, we treat pets better than humans in our brave new HMO-controlled health-care world.

Physician service has deteriorated from house calls to call-waiting. My last doctor's visit mirrored a familiar routine: a month to schedule, an hourlong reception room wait, followed by 30 minutes in those sparse checkup rooms, all for 15 precious physician-attention minutes.

Apparently I missed the follow-up call the next day inquiring of my well-being. Nope, nothing on the home message machine either. Must have been an oversight.

Don't get me wrong; we're fond of our family physician, once we navigate our HMO bureaucracy and circumvent the staff Gestapo. We call, fax and e-mail questions or requests -- twice. Processing specialist referrals takes weeks, followed by more waiting weeks.

By contrast, our pet hospital will see Dutch in a day.

Mail is now addressed to Dutch. Once a month, Healthy Pet magazine arrives from our pet hospital imprinted with a personalized message, "Dutch, could you possibly squeeze us into your busy schedule?"

Lower down, Dutch's owners are reminded that we stink, because Dutch is overdue for a variety of vaccinations, all for potentially life-threatening diseases.

Facing pet-care inflation for our middle-aged canine, we're researching pet HMOs -- that's right, health insurance for dogs. One online insurance company will sell us comprehensive, catastrophic, calamitous, coddling coverage for $40 a month or $456 a year.

Of course, to qualify, Dutch must be free of preexisting conditions, score high on the SATs and pass a physical. Sporting a svelte physique, he doesn't drink or smoke -- other than the secondhand fumes from my occasional cigar. He's not promiscuous, having been neutered years ago. We forbid his seeing the lady lab down the street. Word is she's the neighborhood tramp.

Frankly, for $40 a month, the pet HMO should toss in a dating service. At least that would partly assuage my guilt over the neutering.

If my primary-care givers matched Dutch's treatment, I'd wag my tail, lick their faces and fetch a toy.

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