The Least of These: Cavities and Preferred Vendors

I had an interesting conversation today with my dentist. He had just gotten off the phone with someone from a law enforcement agency that was checking up on a patient who had been visiting multiple health professionals to feed her prescription drug habit.

We both were struck by the seeming absurdity of the situation. Shouldn’t it be relatively easy to track drug abuse with electronic medical records?

I related an experience I had with the VA Hospital, which is notoriously far behind in adopting modern record keeping, and the conversation wound its way toward a discussion of the incoming 45th president, and his hopes that he would “do something” about government bureaucracy.

My anecdote involved a situation where a vendor had taken advantage of the cumbersome bureaucracy to sell them expensive equipment that they didn’t need, or wouldn’t solve the issue they hired the contractor to solve. I was then shown a room full of useless equipment that the hospital had purchased over the years by using the VA’s Preferred Vendor system.

“Because he’s a businessman, he wouldn’t put up with that crap,” my dentist assured me. He and the assistant continued to provide numerous similar examples of government waste that the incoming president will, presumably, eliminate.

Of course, by this time, we are fully engaged in dental reconstruction work inside of my mouth rendering my contribution to the discussion nil. So, I just listened, occasionally nodding my head as if in agreement, or to suggest I needed to rinse. One of the rare political discussions I’ve had little to input in recent months.

Interestingly, both my dentist and his assistant agreed that Trump is an awful, pig of a man, whose narcissism and self promotion are all too painfully obvious. Yet, government corruption and waste is so egregious that the second coming of Caligula is warranted if only he will put an end to the cronyism in Washington DC.

I have a different take on the wastefulness of government. I think that, as an institution, government is very intentional in its preference to be fair and inclusive – an idealistic motto echoed in the 4-Way Test of Rotary: 1-Is it the truth, 2-Will it be beneficial to all concerned, 3-Will it build good will and better friendships, and 4-Will it be fair to all concerned.

In the situation I described to my dentist, prior to my mouth becoming a hazardous waste site, I wasn’t so much lamenting the layers of bureaucracy that enabled the stacks of useless equipment, but rather; the behavior of the vendor that took advantage of the system to bilk the VA Hospital for money. To me, that is the egregious thing.

Early in the presidential campaign, during one of the televised debates, Donald Trump said something that resonated with me. He said that he had personally given money to many of the candidates standing around him in return for political favors. Yet, it is the government agent that is solely at fault. If there is no one (or, thanks to Citizen’s United; no corporation) bribing or seeking to gain influence – there is no corruption. It is a two-way street!

Government does a lot of things wrong, and it is probably way too big. There is no argument over that, and is something with which we can all agree.

But, government has a responsibility to protect those who would otherwise be marginalized like minorities and the poor. Many of the processes that would enable me, as a private vendor, to game the system for my selfish greed, exist to make sure that everyone has a shot at selling goods and services to government institutions – particularly those businesses and vendors who have been historically shut out of the system.

A populist revolution of angry citizens who are frustrated because they are no longer the preferred vendors should not be allowed to dismantle the progress our society has achieved in making the system fair to all concerned.

Donald Trump may have convinced a certain demographic that he has their back, but he should also be made aware that there is a segment of our society that is ever vigilant in looking out for what the Nazarene Reformer of the New Testament scriptures called “the least of these.”


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