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The Radiology of Grocery Shopping


What if grocery shopping was like health care, where volume, overhead, and equipment utilization was factored into the cost of food?

Perhaps I shouldn’t have gone to the store right after spending a few hours reading about the federal government’s management of health care, radiology in particular. I might not have been in the right frame of mind. But what the heck, the fridge was getting empty, so off I went.

As I was gathering items in the produce section, I realized that, much like the contiguous body parts imaging discount, a reduction in price was due me. The store’s fresh fruit and vegetable offerings were all in the same area. This efficient distribution of their goods meant that they had a lower overhead. Since their costs were reduced and food, surely, is a human necessity (and therefore my right to have, as a citizen), I deserved to have the savings passed along to me.

Strangely, the employees in the store didn’t follow my logic. I tried explaining to them that I had not come up with this on my own, and that in fact many wise and powerful people in our nation’s capital had established and expanded upon this precedent for years. If this were somehow inappropriate, wouldn’t someone have called them out on it by now?

Eventually a manager was summoned, and he did a better job of pretending to listen to me. I don’t know whether he saw my point, but he gave me some coupons for the stuff I wanted to buy, saying it was the easiest way to give me the discount I thought I deserved.

I continued going about my business and eventually reached the checkout counter. As my total was tallied, it occurred to me that I had another discount coming. It was an off-hour, and the store had relatively few customers in it at the time. Nevertheless, I felt that the store could be operating at 90 percent capacity on a regular basis, and that any shortfall at this time must be a fluke or the result of their own inefficiency.

Since their overhead was the same regardless, their cost per customer under the 90 percent-plus level should be their burden, rather than a cost passed along to entitled shoppers like me.

Before long, the same manager was sent my way. He seemed less receptive this time. I got about halfway through my explanation of the Equipment Utilization Rate, and how this, too, was the carefully thought out result of multiple sessions of wise congressional folks - but he wasn’t having it.

I forget exactly what he said, but I remember something about them trying to run a business there, and that customers don’t get to decide their own prices. He did accuse me of “just wanting to pay less.” He seemed to think I was lying about the government’s mechanisms in health care, saying that my descriptions weren’t “American.” He implied I was a socialist and/or communist, especially when I pointed out that food was a necessity, and that as I citizen I therefore had a right to their products.

Ultimately, of course, I had to pay my bill because I wanted the groceries. But I might just write an angry letter to DC, demanding tighter regulation of these greedy 1 percent types.

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