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People are sick-Literally-of the Health Care debate

Illness resulting from the heated national debate about healthcare will add $150 billion to the nation’s health care bill this year, experts say. More alarming, it will shave a full percentage point offGDP, as rage over the nation’s healthcare system has made the atmosphere in the workplace so toxic that productivity is now starting to decline across the board. The increasingly rancorous debate over healthcare reform has become so passionate and nasty that it is literally making a substantial portion of the American population sick.

“The emergency room used to be filled with people complaining about shotgun wounds and lawn mower accidents,” says Dr.  Ariel Gupta, an overworked internist at the Mason County Hospital in Mingo Creek, Ohio. “Now we’re seeing people who got their heads stove in at town hall meetings, people with serious migraines resulting from poring over the Senate bill to see if aesthetic dentistry will still be covered by their policies, people who wrecked their cars driving to protests about the cost of healthcare, and people who got knifed by their significant others because one of them wouldn’t shut up about COBRA. And that’s not mentioning all the outpatients we’re treating for old fashioned nausea.”

One measure of the effect the healthcare debate is having on the economy is the staggering record number of sick days workers are taking.

“People literally don’t want to come to work anymore,” says Clifton Salazar of the polling firm National Research Monitor.  “They are so fed up with the wrangling, the epithets and the fistfights that they would rather stay home in bed and watch preseason college softball. Can you imagine?”

One of the earliest manifestations of this disturbing stay-at-home phenomenon— now referred to by clinicians as Baucus- Grassley Syndrome—was a drastic drop-off in the number of Americans eating in fast-food outlets last summer.

“Folks used to stop by and order their pancakes and jawbone to their fellow diners about the Cubs or the high price of eggs,” gripes Chick Latrobe, owner of the Stagger Inn in Aurora, Illinois. “But after a few brawls provoked by arguments over healthcare, people stopped coming in. They just stopped. They’ve basically decided to keep a low profile until the mood of the country turns perkier. If those screwballs down in Washington don’t get some kind of healthcare bill passed soon, I’ll be out of business by Easter.”

Perhaps the worst side effects of the raucous healthcare debate are being felt in the healthcare industry itself.

“Doctors and nurses don’t mind coming to work to deal with flu and tetanus shots and pistol-whippings and recurring bouts of cholera,” says Jason Rocker, chairman of the libertarian think tank the Sisyphus Institute. “But they don’t want to come to work and get harangued about what’s wrong with the healthcare system. It’s worse than drunks complaining about other people’s drunkenness. It’s making some healthcare workers so sick that they can’t deal with the sick.”

Rocker says that the country has now entered a dangerous phase where anger over the various healthcare bills under consideration by the House and the Senate is making people sicker than conventional illnesses like strep and rubella.

“The whole thing is feeding off itself,” he explains. “Anger over healthcare makes you sick, and then when you go to get treated for sickness, you find out that sickness caused by anger over legislation to deal with sickness is not covered by your insurance package. That’s when you start to see the axe handles flying.”

Physician Gupta echoes that view. To him, the whole situation has now turned into a vicious cycle.

“People come in with mysterious ailments, and I can’t tell what they’re suffering from anymore,” he laments. “Are they sick, are they sick of being sick or are they just sick of everybody moaning about sickness? The only time we get any peace and quiet around here is when somebody comes in complaining that their ferret bit them. At least that sort of thing we can treat.”

About Joe Queenan

Joe Queenan is a regular contributor on business issues, corporate culture, and financial follies to Barron's and The Wall Street Journal.