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At the end of the year in the frozen wastes of north-eastern USA it is easy to forget that in Australasia the season and the weather is exactly opposite.


51ZmoLj1I3L._SX331_BO1,204,203,200_You happen, like me, to have recorded a forthcoming Australian
novel. Two actually. One is called Signal Loss by Gary Discher, and is a pacey police thriller. It’s the second of Mr Discher’s books that I’ve read aloud for commercial use (he’s written a string of them) and I’m a fan. The story itself deals with the desperate effects of the drug trade, and when I was in Australia earlier this year I witnessed some of exactly that in the economically challenged areas of NSW.

The other book has not yet been published and I was going to keep quiet about the title until it comes out officially, but I notice that those cunning 51CwL8-8hVL._SX333_BO1,204,203,200_marketing strategists have made it available to pre-order via Amazon.

I will say though that this year was also memorable for me for a dental episode involving a cracked tooth, and if you had poked it with one of those spindly things that dentists use, I would have told you the name of the book immediately, had you asked me. Yes, that painful. And when there’s pain what do you want? Anesthesia, right?

After all: “There was never yet philosopher who could endure the toothache patiently.” Shakespeare Much Ado About Nothing

So talking of drugs, my troublesome tooth obliged me to visit no fewer than three dental offices in one morning. This was the sequence: examination, possible root canal, extraction. In the first office, the dentist did indeed prod with an instrument. To say I leaped from the chair is an understatement. It was more as if my body was momentarily abducted by aliens and I was hurled at interstellar speed across the consulting room. I am not exaggerating.


Laurence Olivier and Dustin Hoffman in Marathon Man

With the root canal specialist there was whatever the present equivalent of novocaine is, and damn good stuff it was too. “That is good stuff.” I said to the friendly specialist, and I would have paid large amounts in cash money for a ready supply. Deciding the tooth could not be saved, I was referred to the third practitioner, a dental surgeon, who when I recounted through a thickly numbed mouth the level of pain and the level of comfort afforded by the right dope, kindly jabbed me with a further shot prior to performing the extraction.

And talking of medicine, and its close sibling, medical insurance, well I won’t bother you with the byzantine details, but… well actually… you do need a bit of back story to appreciate the full astonishing, mind-numbing absurdity of the situation.

And here let me say the story is involved so if you want to stop reading and make a cup of tea and then resume, fine. Or perhaps just stop reading altogether, and the next time we run into each other you can just make sympathetic noises and I’ll assume that you’ve read this sad account.

Still with me? Ok. Here’s the summary:

As you may know in the USA — of course if you are an American citizen or Green Card holder then you do indeed know, and if you are reading from some other part of the world, the UK for example, all I can say is: revere the NHS… and try not to let the characters presently in charge to finish what Mrs. Thatcher started in her attack on all social services — hospitals, schools, libraries, the railways, the BBC and so on…

Long story short. If you are an American actor and union member and you complete an average of 20 weeks of full employment in an 18 month period you can get very good medical insurance for the extremely reasonable (and to my mind) appropriate price of $100 per quarter. For the past 15 years, I have been fortunate enough to maintain this important average and (ironically, can you hear me laughing?) in that time never went to the doctor.

Then, at the end of last year my score of weeks-worked slipped below the qualifying requirement. OK. So I did what millions of Americans did and signed up for what is known as Obamacare. And here you enter the paradigm of the shy-and-retiring-second-hand-car-dealer. Which is to say there is no shortage of “affordable” insurance policies available which are actually expensive and meaningless, if you did have a serious medical emergency while “covered” under one of these discount schemes, you would very likely find yourself unable to the meet the “deductible” and they would come for your car, computer, television, furniture, 401k, clothing, underclothing, and house or apartment and you would have to sleep in your car — oh no, they already took that.

So I prepared to purchase the lower end of a policy which actually did seem to give actual coverage at a cost of, wait for it, $500 a month. Yes, that’s right. From $400 a year to $6,000 a year. Loss of income = exponential increase of premium was the net result. So just as I was poised to pay the first installment, I received an email from my union (the actors’ union) telling me that I was in fact eligible for another six months of coverage at the friendly union rate. I instantly paid the said union rate, 200 bucks for six months, and felt that (temporarily at least) I was winning in the game of life.

Cut to: six months later and the elegant, utilitarian health insurance offered by the union did actually expire, so I bit the proverbial bullet fully prepared to pay the (to my naturalized-citizen mind) exorbitant 500 bucks each and every month, until such time as I either: regained sufficient employment or won the lottery.

Picture my surprise when the website turned down my money.

This was to do with the complexities of “open enrollment” and various other internecine details that arose in the original Obama negotiations with the insurance companies and their proxies, the Republican Party. As we don’t have the space of a book to explain it here, I refer you to Michael Moore’s summation: “The insurance industry wasn’t content with a piece of it, they wanted all of it.”

After various circular conversations with insurance professionals and government officials, each of whom seemed to be just a few sandwiches short of the full picnic, the upshot was this:

Because I didn’t pay for something I never had (when I first applied for Obamacare and shunned it in favor of the union policy), I was not eligible to purchase it now.

Clever, right? I’d say right up there with Catch 22.

So there I was uninsured. This is not a condition you want to find yourself in, in the free world. I was passing the Actors’ Equity Association offices the following morning, and realizing the absurd and appalling state of risk I was living in (House, car, electrical appliances etc…) I went in and asked if there was a remedy?

“Sure,” said the union advisor, “You can’t be excluded from the policy just because you don’t have the weeks, so you can pay retail for the very same union insurance you had for $400 a year when you were in work.”

“How much would it cost?”

“$935 dollars a month.” This was said with an entirely straight face.

“I’ll take it.” I said instantly, glad to be able to come in out of the cold of the perilously uninsured condition into the warmth of at least being able to go on living in a well built dwelling should I step under a bus.

And there you have it. $400 a year, if in sufficient work; the precise same policy (and very good it is too) for something north of $11,000 a year, if you fall from favor with the gods of employment. Oh, and how a mere $500 per month now seemed a bargain, (which I could not access, remember?) Free market capitalism mixed with medicine, a compote of sophisticated financial oppression at its finest. Trawl the Internet and it will tell you the stats are that more than 60% of personal bankruptcies here in the Land of the Free are due to medical expenses. Seems plausible to me.


As Tilney photo Erika Rolfsrud

Deep personal thanks to Bonnie Monte at the New Jersey Shakespeare Festival for inviting me to play Tilney in the recent sumptuous production of Shakespeare in Love over there. Unknowingly, although profound thanks are still due, she saved my medical bacon.

Which is just as well, because I went to the doctor for a check up (most men don’t go, the statistics say, until they are 60). Well I just turned 60, so here I am right on the national average. There’s nothing seriously wrong, just a few harbingers of the issues to come as we move inexorably forward towards the final exit. The doctor was an extremely agreeable chap with whom I exchanged medical jokes. I told him that had I known it was going to be this much fun I’d have come to see him years ago.

In George Orwell’s book, Down and Out in Paris and London, Boris says:

“It’s fatal to look pale, it makes people want to kick you.”

This whole sorry episode could be viewed as a pale tale, and hey! It’s not sooo bad to have First World problems of this kind, actually all of the above is just one manifestation (there were plenty of others, believe me) of what we actor/astrologers know as the Saturn Return. I’ve just had my second one — we all get one about every thirty years or so.

If you are interested in my astrological perspective on the coming year, take a look here, but wait until the 2nd of January 2018 when the post will be live.

Oh, and if you thought medical insurance was fun and games, try getting dental coverage.

Happy New Year!

Take care of your teeth.