I was having a discussion with a friend who is a personal injury lawyer, and he mentioned the case of a man who was riding a bicycle in a crosswalk when he was struck by a car. He was taken to the emergency room and had X-rays, an MRI and a complete exam, including a medical history. As part of the medical history at the E.R., the patient was asked if he had ever used marijuna. The poor fellow assumed that all medical information was privileged and answered that he had occasionally used marijuana in his younger days. It turns out that the bicyclist wasn’t seriously injured and wasn’t even admitted as a patient at the hospital. Imagine his surprise when the medical bills began to arrive. After having spent less than four hours in an E.R., the cyclist’s total medical bills added up to just about $50,000. That’s right, folks, fifty grand.
Naturally the injured fellow figured that the motorist’s liability insurance would at least pay the medical bills. Guess what? The insurance company got access to his medical records that he thought were confidential and alleged that the bicyclist was stoned and thus contributed to his own injury. The insurance company offered to pay a grand total of $2,000 or they’d see him in court.
Figuring it would cost him at least $25,000 to just go to court, the cyclist accepted the $2,000 and is now stuck with medical bills of more than $45,000. Yes, indeed, what others know about your private life can harm you.
As this is an outdoor column, you might be asking yourself, What’s this got to do with me?
Apparently, medical information on private citizens is now being used by the U.S. Department of Justice through the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms. I was conversing with a gun shop owner a few days ago who related the story of one of his customers whose home was raided by a SWAT team of ATF agents who confiscated all of his guns. They had gotten a tip that the gun owner had visited his doctor for depression and might be suicidal. No one ever did learn how ATF got the tip, but the poor fellow had to spend thousands of dollars to go to court and get his guns back.
Although it used to be conventional wisdom that you could and should tell everything to your physician, your clergyman and your attorney, it seems that the times, they are a-changing. Not only is the NSA monitoring our phones and computers, but now even our medical system may be watching us. Just because you’re paranoid doesn’t mean they’re not out to get you. I guess the question you might want to ask yourself is, “Do I trust the government?” It’s something to think about.
Until next time, tight lines.
• Don Moyer, author and outdoors columnist for the Tracy Press, began writing Tight Lines more than three decades ago. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.