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Treating Sick Rich Folks

Nancy Hemenway, a senior financial services executive and hospital patient, reads a newspaper in the library of the Eleven West wing at Mount Sinai Medical Center in New York, January 13, 2012. Around the country, hospitals are offering pampering and decor that rivals a grand hotel as part of an international competition for wealthy patients willing to pay extra, even as the federal government cuts back hospital reimbursement in pursuit of a more universal and affordable American medical system. (Marilynn K. Yee/The New York Times) In these trying times of health care austerity, it reaffirms one’s faith in humanity to learn that many hospitals are now going the extra mile to provide top quality care for all. For all super-rich people that is. These folks are so rich they can buy their way into “amenities units” built into secluded sections of many hospitals. It’s not medical care that they’re peddling to an elite clientele, but the personal pampering that the superrich expect in all aspects of their lives. “I was supposed to be in Buenos Aires last week taking tango lessons,” a Wall Street executive explained matter-of-factly to a New York Times reporter, “but unfortunately, I hurt my back, so I’m here with my concierge.”

In these trying times of health care austerity, it reaffirms one’s faith in humanity to learn that many hospitals are now going the extra mile to provide top quality care for all.

For all super-rich people that is. These folks are so rich they can buy their way into “amenities units” built into secluded sections of many hospitals. It’s not medical care that they’re peddling to an elite clientele, but the personal pampering that the superrich expect in all aspects of their lives.

“I was supposed to be in Buenos Aires last week taking tango lessons,” a Wall Street executive explained matter-of-factly to a New York Times reporter, “but unfortunately, I hurt my back, so I’m here with my concierge.”

A hospital with a concierge? Yes. There’s one called Eleven West, an exclusive wing of New York’s Mount Sinai Medical Center. “We pride ourselves on getting anything the patient wants,” beamed its director of hospitality. “If they have a craving for lobster tails and we don’t have them on the menu, we’ll go out and get them.”

From New York to Los Angeles, hospitals that draw huge subsidies from taxpayers (and often are so overcrowded that regular patients are lucky to get a gurney in the hallway) have set aside entire floors for $2,400-a-day deluxe suites. They come with butlers, 5-star meals, marble baths, imported bed sheets, special kitchens, and other amenities for swells who have both insurance and cash to burn.

It’s repugnant for the plutocratic elite to pervert health care into a luxury commodity. It splits asunder America’s essential, uniting principle of the common good. To push for a national policy that treats health care as a fundamental human need — for all — contact Physicians for a National Health Program: www.pnhp.org.

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