Q: I hear Congress still can't agree on that patient bill of rights. What's the problem? A: Nothing's more complicated than health care in America. The latest stumbling block was when several Senators realized that checking into a hospital and hiring a prostitute both started with the same question - "How much money do you have?" - and ended with, "All right, lie down and give me your underwear."

Q: But patients already have some rights, don't they?

A: Absolutely. For example, if you're sick enough to be hospitalized, you have the right to be kept awake by different people coming into your room all night long, and also the right to hear them shouting at each other outside in the hallway.

Q: But don't I have the right to complain?

A: Of course. And the hospital administrators have the right to barricade themselves in their offices until you finally give up and go away.

Q: In this proposed legislation, what would happen if you called to make an appointment with an HMO-approved doctor but were told he's not accepting any new patients?

A: That's one of the points they can't agree on. Under the Democrats' proposal, you would be authorized to slam down the phone really hard. But the Republicans would give the doctor a tax credit because you didn't get a busy signal.

Q: What if you have some chronic problem - say, a nasty rash that keeps getting worse - and a new procedure is developed, but your company's managed-care plan says it's too expensive. What then?

A: Under the Democratic proposal, details of the new procedure would be faxed to Al Gore, who's still very interested in scientific breakthroughs.

Q: And the Bush administration's bill?

A: The Justice Department would investigate how you got the rash.

Q: Lets say you want to have some medical procedure, but the HMO won't pay because they consider it elective?

A: Both sides are trying to agree on the "elective" list. At the moment, the Democrats want it to include birth control and Rogaine; the Republicans favor breast enhancements and Viagra.

Q: How about catastrophic health care? For example, what if you had to go to the nearest emergency room after being wounded by gunfire from rival street gangs who were arguing over crack turf?

A: In that case, the Republicans would guarantee you the right - while waiting for your paperwork to be processed - to be interviewed by Fox News for an upcoming report on youth violence. In the Democratic version of the bill, it would be a PBS special on gun control.

Q: And what about malpractice? What happens if they accidentally whack someone because the doctor said "temporary amnesia" but the nurse wrote it down as "triple the anesthesia"? Do you get to sue somebody?

A: They're working that out right now, but it's a good chance that patients will have some right to litigate, because most of the people in Congress are lawyers.

Q: Final question. What about mental health? There's such a stigma in that area. Would the Republican plan help me if I were suffering from a mental illness?

A: Yes. You would be locked in a dark room for free.

Q: What about the Democrats?

A: You would be given a civil-service job for life.

Copyright 2001 Newrite, Inc. All rights reserved. GLW's on WGN Radio AM 720 and http://www.wgnradio.com.

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