Monday, July 27, 2009

TSA: Is this how we want our health care run?

As some readers know, I recently took a much needed break and travelled to Puerto Rico for a week. I am always anxious when travelling, but my anxiety was higher than normal with this trip due to the fact that I needed to travel with a few liquid medications. These medications are all natural and therefore, not prescribed to me via the traditional route. Since I needed them, I couldn't take the chance of checking them in my luggage, so being the studious, rule-following person that I am, I called TSA ahead of time, seeking their guidance on the best way to travel with them so as to minimize any potential headaches while getting through security. To my surprise, I found the TSA agent pleasant, informative and reassuring. The medicine needed to be kept in the original containers in a clear, gallon-sized zip lock bag. Done.

Fast forward a week. We arrive at the airport early, I walk up to security, declare that I have medicine and pull the bag out of my carry-on. Aside from the fact that I was pulled to the side and searched for ten minutes because the metal detectors did not like the buttons on my jeans, which the TSA agent noted but proceeded to pat me down everywhere anyway, afraid to use her brain (by noting my demeanor, close-fitting clothing under which nothing could be concealed, etc.) I then had to deal with TSA agents when I came out of the glass box I was confined in during the search, telling me that my medicine would not be allowed on the plane.

So, I spent another ten minutes pleading, explaining, pulling out doctors’ notes, and telling the TSA employees of the conversation I’d had just one week earlier with the TSA representative who’d taken down my contact and flight information and assured me that every airport follows the same rules.

The response I received: smirks, confused looks, laughs, shrugs. The TSA employees at the airport had never heard of the rules I was told on the phone (despite the fact that these same rules are clearly laid out on their website). Then, the manager, the ultimate authority over what does and doesn’t get on the plane, walked over and very nonchalantly said to the agents, “do whatever you want”.

And, just like that, after performing a ‘vapor test’ on the medicine, I was allowed to take it through. (What does the vapor test do? Other than give the security people some semblance of legitimacy, I have no idea.)

While I remained calm during the ordeal, I was shaken up afterward. And, I couldn’t help but marvel at the disaster that is the TSA. They are supposed to keep us safe? Could they be any more disorganized? So, let me get this straight. The TSA is paid for by flyers and taxpayers. It receives funding from 1) the 9/11 fee assessed on airplane tickets, 2) airlines (in other words, people who fly who also presumably pay taxes) and 3) directly from taxpayer support.

After 9/11, the federal government decided to use taxpayer money to create the TSA. So, we paid someone to create the policies, to create a website detailing those polices, to answer phones and consult with flyers like me and explain/reassure them of the policies. And, we pay the security agents at the airport who somehow don’t follow the same polices. How does this make any sense?

Don’t get me wrong – if there is one function the federal government should have, it’s to provide protection. And, I have no problem with being questioned or searched at the airport for I have nothing to hide. But, how much time did these agents waste with me, only to let me take my medicines onboard, when they could have been searching people who were a real threat? And, how about if we must have them, why not hire people we trust to be thinking and rational to make judgments about who does and does not present a real security threat?

While the analogy has been made that having the government run health care will result in health care that makes us feel like we’re at the DMV – waiting in long lines, being at the mercy of the government bureaucrats and employees and having no other choice, I think comparing it to dealing with security at the airport is an even better analogy. They hold all the power – to decide who gets what treatment, who gets to go through and who doesn’t. The TSA is a perfect example of a government organization that is mismanaged and disorganized. It is the epitome of a government creation that has turned into a monster – is this who we want to run our health care?