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Pricey Pedicure Peeves Patron, Nails Taxpayers

Sun., April 30, 1995, midnight

Al Krafft is sore as a bruised bunion over a $51 bill that was charged to Medicare.

For cutting his toenails.

By my deft calculations, this works out to $5.10 per tootsie, which the 75-year-old Spokane man contends is an outrageous clip job.

“Ridiculous,” grumbles Al, a retired Safeway worker. “It took longer for me to take off my shoes and socks than it did for the guy to cut my nails.”

To begin our adventure in proper foot care, we must travel back in time to last February, when Al sprained his knee. That put him in the unenviable position of not being able to bend over and trim his toenails.

Al’s doc referred him to the Northeast Community Center. That non-profit organization offers a small clinic that caters to the elderly and needy.

So on Valentine’s Day, Al took his piggies to market to get his tootsies some TLC.

Tender Loving Clipping.

There wasn’t much of that. Al says a rather terse physician’s assistant performed a no-frills clipping in less than five minutes.

The experience didn’t mean much until mid-April, when Al received his eye-popping Medicare statement. Medicare agreed to pay 80 percent of the $51, which means we taxpayers shelled out $40.80 to clip Al’s toes.

Even that amount seems like highway robbery. “If I’d have known how much it was going to be, I never would have gone for it,” says the piggies’ papa.

“What’s worse,” adds B.J., Al’s wife of 49 years, “is you know this kind of thing goes on everywhere.”

Few would disagree the national health care system is a bloated, Ted Kennedy-sized tar pit oozing with fraud.

But not at the Northeast Community Center, says an employee, who claims Al wasn’t overcharged one dime. The 51 bucks is the standard fee submitted to Medicare for an office visit.

Besides, she adds, as part of the visit Al would have surely been weighed and had his blood pressure checked.

“Nothing like that happened,” says Al, scoffing at the suggestion. “The guy just came in and undid his scissors.” Al adds that he told the clinic what he was there for from the get-go.

I tried to call the Medicare people to learn the fair market price of a toenail clipping.

This is a very relative thing. For example, I ain’t touching Al’s ol’ dogs for less than a grand.

After being put on hold for about a fortnight, a recorded voice told me any actual telephone conversations would be “monitored for quality.”

When I finally reached a human, he told me to call someone else. I dialed that number and listened to Nat King Cole sing “All in the Game,” which set my own toes a tappin’.

I gave up and found the answer in the Yellow Pages under manicures and pedicures.

“Fifty-one dollars? Oh, good gracious,” says Peggy Dial at A Perfect 10 salon at 206 E. Wellesley.

For 21 bucks and change, Peggy guarantees “an hour of bliss”: toenail clipping, buffing, polishing and massage up to the knee. For $15 more, she will customize your toes with bright colors and designs. Maybe a rhinestone or two.

“It would really impress me if Al did that,” says B.J.

Al, however, discovered the toenail-clipping bargain of the century. It’s at the South Hill Senior Center at Lincoln Heights.

He went there in April and got clipped, a foot massage and a hot soak. For six bucks.

It’s part of the center’s pedicare program offered once a month by licensed nursing home workers. Charlotte Bjurstrom says the waiting list is so long she can only book people every two months.

Of course, if B.J. has her way, Al will spend the extra money and have Peggy give him the flashiest set of toes in town.

“Wow,” says Al. “I’d start wearing sandals.”

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