A modest proposal for the Carnival Triumph

Looking at the news today, some friends and I were attracted to photos of the Carnival Triumph being towed back to port and of Hugo Chavez’s daughters visiting their beloved papa in a Cuban hospital. As there presumably won’t be a tremendous near-term demand for leisure cruises on the Triumph it occurred to me that perhaps the engine-room fire on the Triumph represents a great opportunity for the U.S. taxpayer.

Seventeen percent of Floridians are age 65 and older, i.e., nearly 3.5 million people. That’s the age at which an American becomes eligible for Medicare, i.e., a cash cow for the local doctors and hospitals. America is chronically short of doctors while Cuba has a large surplus of physicians. Cuban doctors must be doing a pretty reasonable job since life expectancy in Cuba is higher than in the U.S. Also, it seems doubtful that Hugo Chavez would choose second-rate care for himself when his life is at stake.

The Carnival Triumph can cruise at about 22 knots, which means that it could cross the 90 miles of water that separate Florida from Cuba in about 4 hours. Why not set the ship up as an ambulatory care clinic staffed with Cuban doctors? The ship can sail every day from Florida to Cuba and back. Any Medicare patient who can be treated on board will enjoy the round-trip sail, the waterslide park, and the rest of the amenities on board. Any Medicare patient whom the doctors deem to require more extensive treatment can get off in Cuba and be admitted to a hospital there for a procedure to be performed at a tiny fraction of the cost to the U.S. taxpayer.

The Triumph would leave every morning at around 8:00 am. Medicare clients would enjoy a Cracker Barrel breakfast on board the ship. The ship would arrive in Cuba at 12 noon. Those who were well enough to walk could enjoy a stroll around Havana. The Triumph would pick up patients returning from hospital care in Cuba and anyone who’d been enjoying the sights, then depart around 2:30 pm. An early bird special dinner would be served on board starting at 5 pm, with an arrival back in Key West at 6:30 pm.

As the Triumph holds approximately 3000 people, approximately 1 million patient-days of ambulatory care could be delivered each year via this means, plus however many days of hospital care delivered to those who stayed in Cuban for a few days. If we assume that each procedure performed by a Cuban team rather than a U.S. team saves Medicare an average of $500, operating the ship should conservatively save U.S. taxpayers $500 million per year while relieving Carnival of an embarrassment.

Anyone have a better idea for what to do with the Triumph?

9 thoughts on “A modest proposal for the Carnival Triumph

  1. The literary tone of this post suggests it’s satire — as though it were written for Mad Magazine. And yet, the recommendation is based on data that looks accurate to me. So I agree that this is something our government ought to do. It also would normalize our relations with Cuba, which would be a good thing in itself. The only part I don’t understand (I’m 67 years old) is why you refer to dinner at 5:00 pm as an “early bird” special. 5:00 pm is dinner time, isn’t it?

  2. I have zero interest in photography or flying. But this is a pretty good example of why this blog is still one of my favorites.

  3. And after when they are done with their “medical cruise” to Cuba, they can take a “bus tour” to Canada or Mexico for their prescription.

    So, here you have it Phil, I have completed the loop for you! 🙂

  4. Why do you assume the Cuban doctors are responsible for the greater longevity of the Cuban people any more than other factors that might lend to greater lifespan, like diet, smoking, exercise, social stressors and other differences between typical Cuban and typical American lives. What is the typical Cuban BMI compared to an American? What about intake of processed foods and high-fructose corn syrup sweeteners and overall daily food calorie intake? How much more or less distance do Cubans typically walk on any given day as opposed to Americans?

    If the typical Cuban has a similar overall lifestyle as the American you might like to barge over to Havana (doubtful), then I am all ears as to how they do so well. Somehow the comparison of costs, resources and degree of success seems to irrationally assume all those behavioral and population differences are within the power of doctors alone to change.

  5. “Cuban doctors must be doing a pretty reasonable job since life expectancy in Cuba is higher than in the U.S.”

    It would be interesting to know what’s the source of this information. If it’s the Cuban government (which is very likely) please allow me to have strong doubts about it. I was born and raised in a Communist country, with amazing similarities to Cuba. Among other things, the Communist regime’s propaganda was falsifying the stats and were constantly reporting gains in the life expectancy, standard of living etc.

    During the last decade of the Communist era the economy went into a tailspin and it became harder and harder to find food. As a result, it was uncommon to find seriously overweight people in the country and the obesity rate plunged. Unfortunately it wasn’t just the food that was missing, but also medical equipment and supplies. I will let the readers of this blog debate whether the life expectancy increases or decreases under such circumstances.

    As for Hugo Chavez taking up Michael Moore’s advice to seek treatment in Cuba I can also assure you that pretty much no self-respecting dictator is going to come to the US or Europe for this purpose, due to reasons that have to do with ideology and with utter fear of being poisoned by the Evil Capitalists.

  6. CHenry, Laur: I did not mean to imply that Cuban doctors and their accompanying hospital system were every bit as good as their best American counterparts, only that the life expectancy numbers show that the Cuban docs are at least reasonably good.

    As far as government manipulation goes, http://blogs.wsj.com/numbersguy/the-numbers-behind-life-expectancy-152/ does not suggest that the Cuban government is simply making the numbers up. Also, Cuba does not seem to have a shortage of older citizens. Look at http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Buena_Vista_Social_Club where it talks about three musicians “who died at the ages of ninety-five, eighty-four, and seventy-eight respectively”.

    There may be a lot of things that the U.S. can do better than other countries, but delivering health care does not seem to be one of them. In fact, on a cost-adjusted basis we might be the least competent society in the history of the planet. Phrased another way, the Honda Accord is a nice car but would you still say “Honda is an amazing company” if the car retailed for $220,000 instead of $22,000? Achievement without a reasonable price tag attached is only impressive in a world where there is infinite money (see http://philip.greenspun.com/politics/health-care-reform for some calculations of what else we could do with our money if we didn’t feed it all to the health care industry).

  7. Alternate explanation: the lack of lots of medical care in Cuba, is part of what actually contributes to Cuban life expectancy. People have no illusions that there is a “pill” or other quick fix to their health, and that someone else can make their body better; so, they are careful as to what they eat, they exercise some each day due to not having cars and other time-saving devices.

  8. Phil,

    This sounds a bit toung-in-cheek, but I think it is a fabulous proposal. If I could make a suggestion, I would sail the Carnival Triumph out of Miami or Ft. Lauderdale for to better access to highway transportation. You didn’t mention if Cracker Barrel would be serving the early bird special dinner. Sounds a heck of a lot better than hospital fare to me!

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