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You may not have heard of Medisave yet. It is a new, comprehensive, bipartisan approach to health care. This is the Social Impact Statement for the scheme.
Kathy glared at Des, sitting at the table in his silver-grey suit, briefcase tucked beneath his legs, flashing his used-car salesman smile on and off like a neon sign. "Whatís he doing here?" she whispered to Sue.
"Heís pretending heís a retrenched executive," Sue said. "That way his wife thinks he spends the day sitting on a park bench because heís too scared to tell her heís been sacked. I thought he might like some lunch."
"Des, eating Yum Cha? Thatís a bit of a comedown from the 5 kilo pepper steak, isnít it?"
"Itís okay," Sue said. "Theyíve got a European menu. MacChar. Dinky little hamburgers, matchstick chips, inch diameter pizzas, party pies, ... I brought him here last month and he wolfed it down. Put it all on his social security card, as proof that heís not starving."
Emma thumped down in the chair opposite Des, empty handed, steam rising slowly. "Bloody shopping malls. All I wanted was some cakes for afternoon tea. You know what theyíve done?"
Kathy and Sue nodded, but that didnít stop her.
"Weighbridges. And steel rails like the airlines use to check cabin baggage. If you donít fit through, you donít get in." She looked pleadingly at Sue. "Can you nick in and get me something after lunch?"
Petra arrived, even more breathless than usual. "Sorry Iím late. Got stopped by the AMA. Random cholesterol test."
"Did you get off?" Des asked.
Petra shook her head. "Theyíre reduced the limit ó again. Itís down to 3.5. Thousand dollar fine. Gaol and controlled diet for over 6.5."
"Itís a rip-off," Kathy said. "3.5ís quite normal."
"Theyíre pushing for a zero limit for under 30ís," Emma said.
Des looked at Kathy, accusingly. "People like you have been complaining for years that thereís not enough preventative medicine. Now you get it, you complain."
"I want preventative medicine, not medical harassment."
"If they didnít run checks, would you really do the right thing?"
"But fines? And gaol?"
"How else are they going to finance it? Itís not cheap to put trained nurses on the streets."
"Medisave is a crucial breakthrough in medical work practices," Sue said. "A redistribution of medical effort from the mundane to the frontiers of medial science."
"From the mundane to the lucrative, more like," Kathy said.
Des shook his head. "There is ample evidence that the number of doctors needed to perform an operation is directly proportional to the square of the patientís wealth."
"Only because theyíre more likely to sue."
"Not at all. Itís imperative for Australiaís future that they have only the best. And if that means cutbacks elsewhere, then so be it."
"Sounds like you need a team of microsurgeons to prick a boil," Emma said.
Des ignored her. "We need a lean, efficient system, not some money guzzler. Effective use of resources. Airlines donít keep their best seats till the last minute just in case someone turns up. People book holidays a year ahead. Why are hospitals so different?"
"What happens if I have an accident? Or get pregnant?" Kathy asked.
Sue glanced at Emma. "Perhaps they think weíre elephants."
"You wait your turn," Des said. "Or buy someone elseís place in exchange for yours. Youíve met Albert, at the Football Club. He lives off that hernia of his on the Health Futures market." Des toyed with a chopstick. "And did you know that over half the cost of medical treatment is incurred in the last year of a personís life? So make them wait. Bang. Halve our taxes straight off."
A waitress appeared with a trolley, and began to dump bamboo steamers on the table, intoning "Char sieu bun. Prawn dumpling. Chicken feet ..."
Emma sniffed. The only smell was a mix of Sueís perfume and Desís aftershave. She lifted the lid of a steamer and surveyed the bamboo slats at the bottom. "Itís empty," she said.
Petra and Sue peered into another two. "So are these."
They looked at the waitress, who was busy ticking them off on the menu card. "Pretend char sieu bun. Imagine prawn dumpling. Chicken still got feet. Safer that way."
"We ordered real yum cha," Kathy said.
"So charge real price," the waitress said, practicing her calligraphy in a row labelled $4.00. She pointed at Emma. "Good for you this way. Too fat."
"I demand to speak to the manager," Des said.
"Luigi say to say, too busy cooking books. If customer want food, go to supermarket. Labels on tins, saying ingredients. Eat wrong thing, Medisave not pay, that customer problem. Cook food here, too risky. Too much fat, soy sauce, MSG. Customer die of heart attack, then sue. Bang, no business."
"Then what sort of restaurant is this, if we canít eat?" Kathy asked.
"Social restaurant. Place meet friends. Satisfy need for company. Table to sit at. Go talk, talk, talk. Mouth not full, so more polite." She lifted a corner of the table cloth. "Make cover charge. Big profit. Low overhead. No waste. Productivity gain five hundred percent. Business lean, efficient. Customers lean, efficient. Government happy."
Emma groaned. "I donít like being lean."
Copyright © D.W. Walker, 1991
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