The New York Times reports this morning that Wal-Mart (WMT) has extended an improved and less-expensive health plan to its workers in recent years, responding to some extent to image problems and, presumably, to the need to sustain a more stable and appreciative workforce.  That’s nice. I love Wal-Mart. And of course I’d love it if they would advertise on this page. So hey, guys from Wal-Mart. If you’re reading this? Consider this space, huh?

This news came at the exact time I was filling out my corporate health care registration online. I guess I have a good plan. It’s not an HMO, at any rate, although I guess I could choose one from my buffet of options. I wouldn’t, though. A few years ago, one of the first HMOs, the Harvard Community Health Plan, very nearly succeeded in killing me. I won’t go into the details, because they’re boring. I understand where they were coming from. A CAT-Scan is an expensive test for them. And if nothing had been wrong with me, it would have been a completely unnecessary expense.

So I have a thing against HMOs. I know there are probably very good ones. If you know of any, please let me know. I like happy stories, too. Of course, if you have any nightmares to relate, bring ’em on. I’d love to hear from you, either way. How you guys over at Kaiser doing?

Anyhow, this morning, when I was done with my health care election forms I toted up the damage, and it seems that next year I’ll be spending about $6,000 on insurance for me and my family. I didn’t make $6,000 a year until I was about 30. That seems like a lot to me. On the other hand, I put a ding in my Chrysler last month that cost me $1,250 to fix, and it wasn’t even all that noticeable. A friend of mine had to pay $2,600 for a procedure recently that, while necessary, was highly unpleasant. On himself, I mean. Not his car. So the dollar doesn’t go as far as it used to, for sure.

I still have quibbles. As costly as my health care insurance is, I’m always amazed at how little they pay for. They have two ways of dodging costs. First, they pay a hilarious, Eisenhower-era rate for stuff that costs real-world dollars. A visit to a specialist in any major city, for example, costs about $300, at least. My insurance would be likely to pay, what, maybe $115.50 for that, which is what I pay my daughter’s dog-walker in an average week. Dentist reimbursements are even more risible. A crown in New York costs as much as one for the Queen in England. Last year, I had to eat nearly a thousand dollars on one, after I was “paid back” by my insurance. That’s tough to swallow.

The second way they avoid paying a lot of the time is that they don’t pay you a lot of the time. They “lose” paper. They “misplace” forms. They are unavailable for comment for weeks at a time. People handling your case change from Mrs. White to Mr. Gray to Ms. Pink and so forth. You have to be preternaturally patient. One bill last year, I had to send in documentation three separate times. Then I got a mailing saying that all the paperwork was now in, and that I had already been paid. Except I hadn’t. I hadn’t? Really? Could I prove that? Eventually, thanks to my excellent assistant, I did get a check… for 1/3 of the amount I had spent on the service.

At any rate, the hell with it. I’m glad I have insurance, and I feel bad for those who do not. So hats off, once again, to Wal-Mart and to all the fine corporations who take the time to think about and invest in our wellness.

Ave Caesar! Morituri te salutamus!