The Reluctant Townie: Finding a better way to health care
The American Health Care Act had passed, slaying Obamacare and collecting its head to shove atop a pike the party could brag about on the Sunday morning talk shows and pound their chests to at the next Republican National Convention.
They had done it. He had done it. Against all odds. Against all criticism.
House Speaker Paul Ryan smiled to himself, his eyes twinkling to no one in the empty room. His campaign donors from the health insurance industry were beside themselves with the news. The good times were here again.
As part of the repeal, all Americans had to surrender their Obamacare in person at the offices of Health and Human Services. The HHS secretary, Tom Price, had to return to his home at the haunted wax museum to apply a new coat to himself; the hot lights of D.C. had done his countenance no favors, so Ryan had volunteered himself.
The room he now found himself in was anchored by a large desk, which sat directly across from the double-door entrance. Behind him, on either side of the desk, were two more doorways. One of the doors was labeled EXIT; the other was labeled A BETTER WAY.
The double doors across from Ryan opened, and a man entered wearing a top hat and coattails. The man stopped just before the desk, tucked his bejeweled cane under his arm and cleared his throat.
"Your name please," asked Paul Ryan, readying his fingers on the laptop keyboard.
"Maximilian Von Baron IV," said the man. "Of Von Baron Industries."
Ryan typed the man's name into the HHS database.
"Ah yes, Mr. Von Baron IV," Ryan said. "Welcome to A Better Way. May I have your Obamacare, please?"
Maximilian Von Baron IV produced his Obamacare ID card. Ryan lifted a heavy pair of silver scissors, but Von Baron stopped him.
"Please," he asked. "May I have the honors?"
"Of course," said Ryan with his winning smile.
The man took the scissors from Ryan and promptly cut his ID card in two. Once the pieces had fallen to the desk, the man turned the scissors over and plunged downward, violently stabbing the remnants of the card. After he had exhausted himself, he returned the scissors to Ryan, slicked his hair back in place and repositioned the top hat to his head.
"Very well," Paul Ryan said. "Here's your AHCA insurance voucher."
Von Baron crumpled the voucher and tossed it over his shoulder. "I don't need coupons, you twit, I'm here for my tax cut."
"But of course," Ryan said. He reached under the desk and pulled out the briefcase labeled with Von Baron's name. The briefcase was packed so full of bills that when he unlatched it, it nearly exploded.
A grim smile of satisfaction flashed across the face of Maximilian Von Baron IV of Von Baron Industries. He pulled a small, ornate bell from his breast pocket and gave it a ring. His servant entered the room quickly and collected the overflowing briefcase and its spilled contents.
"You have done your country a great service," said Maximilian Von Baron IV, reaching across the desk to pat Ryan adoringly on top of the head. "Good boy."
The man walked to the door marked A BETTER WAY and waited for his servant to open it, struggling not to drop the unlatched, bulging briefcase.
"I hope you will remember your gratitude when campaign season comes rearing its ugly head," Ryan called after them, forcing a twinkle of his baby blue eyes.
Maximilian Von Baron IV grunted as his coattails disappeared through the doorway.
"Next," Ryan called.
The double doors opened and a short, plump woman with thinning gray hair entered wearing a T-shirt and blue jeans. Ryan sighed. If he wore glasses, he would have removed them and rubbed the bridge of his nose in an annoyed manner.
"Name," he said.
Ryan typed her name into the database.
"Obamacare," said Ryan, holding his hand out.
Betty Gunderson reluctantly pulled the Obamacare ID out of her pocket.
"Are you sure we're getting cheaper and better coverage under this new plan," Betty asked nervously. "I have a heart condition that requires constant medical attention."
"Mmmhmm," Ryan said, reaching over the desk to cut her Obamacare ID in half. "You're going to have great access to freedom of choice. Here's your AHCA health voucher."
Ryan handed the woman the insurance coupon. She examined it with a frown.
"This isn't very much," she said, walking to the door marked A BETTER WAY. But when she tried to go through it, she found the door was locked.
"Hey, what gives?"
"Oh, I'm sorry. I forgot to explain, you'll need to scan your bank card on the reader there," said Ryan, halfheartedly pointing to a small panel next to the door.
Betty opened her purse and found her debit card, then scanned it across the reader. A tiny red LED light flashed underneath the scanner.
"I'm sorry ma'am," said Ryan. "But it appears you do not have the sufficient funds to enter the health insurance marketplace."
"Sufficient funds? I'm feeling very confused. The president said there would be coverage for all of us."
"And there is! You have access to coverage right through that doorway. You just need more money to get in."
"But I'm on a fixed income, I don't have more money."
"I'm sorry ma'am, but I'm going to have to ask you to leave. There are others waiting behind you."
"I am not leaving without affordable health care."
"Ma'am, be careful, you're starting to sound like a socialist."
"But ... but ... I voted for Trump!"
"And he appreciates your support. Please, the exit is this way," Ryan said, standing and walking to the door on the other side of his desk.
As Betty made her way to the EXIT door, Ryan held out something for her to take.
"What are these," Betty asked.
"Bootlaces," said Ryan. "Good luck out there."
And without another word, Ryan planted his foot on the woman's lower back and pushed her through the doorway.
The door flung open and Betty saw what awaited her on the other side — a plunging fall off the edge of a cliff. As she pinwheeled through the air, she caught a glimpse of the carnage below her: the mound of crumpled, broken bodies floating on the surface of the churning ocean, and the exposed fins of the ravenous sharks encircling them.
Ryan Jackson wonders how much greater America can stand to get, and he can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.