A modest proposal for the Carnival Triumph

Philip Greenspun's Weblog 2013-02-16

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?