By Wendy Reid Crisp
Editor in chief, GRAND magazine

Frank is the only member of our family with health insurance. A two-year-old McNab mix we acquired at the Humane Society, Frank is entering his second month of free medical insurance, part of the adoption package. After this month, we will pay $9 a month to, as the literature says, “protect Frank.”

Free or not, Frank had to first be registered. Following instructions from the Humane Society, I called ShelterCare, the insurance company, and gave the young-voiced customer service representative Frank\’s adoption information. The rep was no slouch in the sales department. “Perhaps you have other animal companions who may need health coverage?”

I doubted any of our menagerie qualified, and I said as much. “A crippled, aging German shepherd; two old cats; eight chickens; and three horses, average age 26.”

“We have an excellent indoor cat plan,” she said.

“These aren\’t indoor cats,” I said. “Last summer, coyotes ate the Siamese.”

“We have death benefits,” she said. I passed.

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After our conversation, I realized I had solved our health care crisis. Our dilemma: we refuse to put a third of our income on the come line of the insurance crap game — and that covers no preventive medicine, no dental, no eye care, no ear care (although if I fell over something I could not see or hear and broke my neck, that would be covered) and a trillion-dollar deductible.

I decided to call my dad\’s old office. Veterinary medicine, in most respects, is not much different than homosapien medicine. And even if it were, by now I should be immune to the differences; for years, as children, we were all shot with veterinary penicillin by our mother, a former nurse.

My plan: register myself with ShelterCare as Kittykins, an eight-and-a-half-year-old indoor cat (why lie about my age?) and go to the vet when I\’m sick.

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I re-read the material for Frank\’s insurance: prescriptions, X-rays, surgeries, hospitalization, ultrasounds, MRI/CAT scans, homeopathic treatments including acupuncture and chiropractic, chemo, and referrals. Frank may select the veterinarian of his choice. His coverage accepts conditions of heredity and congenital defects, even the dreaded hip dysplasia. All breeds and mixes of dogs in the world can belong – except Shar Peis, which have been inbred to the point of an unacceptable insurance risk.

“If you have a Shar Pei who isn\’t sick,” said the customer service woman, “you have a miracle.”
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Other than committing fraud, a venial sin when it comes to medical insurance, I see no drawbacks to my plan. I called Kevin Silver, a local veterinarian. “Any downside to this idea?” I asked.

“If you were to stay over following surgery,” Dr. Silver said, “you might find the accommodations a bit spare. We give you a pad, and a big blankie, but you would be lying on cement, with no TV, no adjustable bed. You\’d be in a private room, though – we only have private rooms. And I don\’t think the food would be that much different from hospital food.”

“What about medications? Aren\’t we all taking more or less the same stuff?”

“For small injuries, little wounds, the treatment would be the same. And antibiotics are more or less equal, although the delivery systems, the inert stuff that carries the antibiotics into the system, are not all the same. Human penicillin is packed in corn starch, for example. It would be different, say, for a dog. Blood work would be the same. All our blood chemistry work is done in the labs at St. Joseph\’s. Runs on the same machines.”

“There is no way to tell animal blood from human blood?”

“Not unless you\’re a goat, a camel, or a bird. Bird blood has a nucleus, and camel blood cells – goats are related to that family – are oval-shaped. Animals have more blood types than humans. And they\’re compatible, for the most part. When we do a transfusion on a dog, for example, especially a first-time transfusion, we just bring in another big dog for the donor. The blood types don\’t have to match.”

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Cost savings? Dr. Silver said, yes, I would save money in our small town, but in larger, specialized animal clinics, I would pay much more for such procedures as hip replacement, eye surgeries, and kidney transplants. “Animals are getting organ transplants?”
“Oh, yes. When people become attached to an animal, it\’s no different than any other family member. A few weeks ago, I even did a complete work-up on a hamster. I\’ve operated on quite a few pet rats, removing tumors, taking care of illnesses.”

“There are RATS who are able to afford better medical care than I am?”
“Yes, well, that seems to be the case,” Dr. Silver said. “Do I detect a tone of righteous indignation ?”

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I calmed down later. Rats are not eligible for medical insurance. They are full-pay patients. I have no reason to be envious; we\’re in the same boat. I won\’t worry until the rats desert.

Christine Crosby, a grandmother and great-grandmother, has been a successful entrepreneur, book and magazine publisher, and child/family advocate for 30 years. At 61, she is the perfect example of why the traditional grandparent images no longer apply. A dynamic, blond, high-energy entrepreneur, Christine is a passionate and articulate advocate for children who has worked for more than 20 years to strengthen families and protect abused kids, first as a book publisher and later as the founder and publisher of a chain of family magazines. Her own grandchildren and great-grandchild were the inspiration for GRAND Magazine, an unprecedented resource for today's grandparents.