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Take two of these and call me in the morning 

Do my glands look swollen to you? They look swollen to me. Really, could you check?

I've had a little tickle in my throat, and I think my temperature has gone up a degree or two. Could you put your hand on my forehead and feel for yourself? I'll try not to breathe on you.

There's something going around. Something's in the air, and I don't mean love. I've watched as co-workers' eyes have turned puffy, listened as their voices have turned raspy, and gazed from afar as various fevers and coughs, aches and ailments, shivers and shakes have worked their way through the immune systems of the people around me. It's like living in a Petri dish. A big, crowded Petri dish that occasionally has bagels in the kitchen.

Now I'm afraid I'm coming down with something, and I don't even want to get into what I just heard about Blue Cross and local HMOs. Ugh. Not that I have an HMO, but still. Somebody, please put me into a medically induced coma and wake me when our healthcare system is as socialized as it is in some Scandinavian country where everybody eats pickled herring and pays 80 percent of their income in taxes in exchange for free CAT scans and after-school soccer programs for the kids.

I'm not the only one keeping an eye on health at the moment. Within minutes of each other, Congresswoman Lois Capps and Sen. Abel Maldonado issued statements about the current state of medicine. It's like someone in Washington, D.C., yelled: "We need some legislation, stat!"

On Dec. 5, Lois and a bunch of her friends in the House called for repairs to the "broken Medicare physician reimbursement formula." Our Congresswoman insisted that the problem constitutes a growing crisis that's led some underpaid physicians to stop seeing Medicare patients in the area. San Luis Obispo County, it turns out, is considered "rural," so hard-working doctors who handle Medicare sickos get repaid based on some podunk hick rate, as opposed to the posh dollars someone in an "urban" county would receive. Before you get all up in arms, though, consider that Santa Barbara County is facing the same geographic inequality, which makes more sense when you look at the northern half and less sense the closer you get to Montecito.

Lois complained that the formula used to calculate reimbursement to local physicians is outdated, like calling tuberculosis "consumption." We're thoroughly modern now, so we should expect our Medicare-toiling doctors to get a little something for their troubles that's more in line with Pottery Barn and less in line with actual barns. I'm not going to argue. Santa Cruz County, it seems, has closed its doors to new Medicare patients altogether because of rural rates.

Abel, on the other hand, announced the introduction of a bill to help "consumer-driven health care" by eliminating state tax penalties for Californians who invest in Health Savings Accounts. Never heard of an HSA? As near as I can tell, it's something like insurance for yourself, to be socked away in the event of certain, nearly inevitable medical expenses, like prescription drugs.

Much to Abel's disappointment, California still drops tax penalties like a bomb on HSA savings. We're one of six states left in the country to do so, he pointed out, making us something like a member of the Confederates. The Civil War in this case would, I guess, be the fight to allow people to pay for their own qualified health care expenses which isn't a particularly stunning cause, all things considered. Anyway, all that would make Abel Abraham Lincoln, but without the beard and freakishly tall stature. And mole. And stovepipe hat.

I understand the idea behind both of these political announcements, and I applaud our elected officials for helping their constituents turn their heads and cough with greater ease, but forgive me if I don't rush out and get some lab work done in celebration.

Healthcare overall isn't exactly a bowl of cherries these days, and I'm sick to my stomach to see that the biggest strides coming across my desk at the moment are related to Medicare and self-funded care. That's not to downplay Lois' and Abel's efforts by any means. Go, you two, go! What they and others like them are doing is just about the only thing keeping sick people from going insane and racking up psych bills, too. Still, to anybody willing to go out on a limb and fight for better health insurance for all of us, I say: Break a leg.

I'll also throw out kudos to French Hospital for also on Dec. 5 announcing an upgrade to its patient menu. The center's Food and Nutrition Services is putting more of an emphasis on preventative medicine through nutrition, and any group that tries to keep me from getting sick in the first place is worth at least an apple a day in my book.

The cafeteria menu has changed, too, so if you feel like dropping by their sandwich bar or grabbing a fruit parfait, you can get a head start on staying healthy and not having to worry about whether an urban doctor would be willing to see you at a rural rate, or if the bucks you set aside for an emergency have been taxed up the wazoo. In that case, you'd probably need a wazoo specialist to get those bucks back, and who knows what that would cost you?

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