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His latest project is a restaurant-worker's healthcare cooperative, under which a network of restaurants pays in an affordable monthly fee and, in exchange, any of those restaurants' workers can pop in and see Dr. Dave, whether it's to treat a cold or a sliced-open finger. His model is a small version of what he hopes to see on a national scale. "It's a demonstration in practical terms," he says. "We have to make our own National Health Service until there is one."
Ores lives in apartment on Avenue B, down the street from his office. It's boldly colored, like his waiting room, and the ceiling is covered in tacked-up Oriental rugs. A tattoo magazine sits on his coffee table, alongside an unopened bottle of wine, a candy dish filled with Starbursts, and a box of cigars. He lights one shortly after arriving home from work, and, while a shuffling iPod runs through an eclectic mix of jazz, hip-hop and rock n' roll, spends the next few hours smoking and explaining his well-considered thoughts about healthcare, as though he were a stumping politician.
Ores, 51, is stocky, with a shaved head and thick arms covered in tattoos of mermaids, among other things. He was born in Manhattan, raised in Leonia—a small town in northern New Jersey—and attended college in Ohio. (Where, he mentions off-handedly, he was a state Judo champion.) He graduated from Columbia Medical School in 1985, after which he did his residency in Summit, NJ before cutting his teeth in emergency rooms.
His parents, both Holocaust survivors who met in Switzerland, spent their lives in medicine, but Ores didn't get the calling until college. First, he tried his hand at restaurant work, as well as unloading trucks. "I don't like to lift things," he tells me. "Work is really hard." Doctoring suits his hyperactive personality: everyday as a doctor is different; though the patients' problems are always the same, the stories behind them change.
Perhaps it was the time Ores spent working in restaurants that made him sympathetic to the uninsured waiters, busboys and kitchen staff. But it was also the empirical evidence of a broader problem he witnessed every day. For ten years, he says, he noticed he was regularly treating restaurant workers. Restaurant didn't see the larger pattern: only one or two of their employees might get sick at any given time, but across the industry that amounts to many ill workers, many if not most of whom don't have the insurance or the resources necessary to see a doctor. "These people are not served," he says. "You don't want sick people in your restaurants."
Restaurant management often can't afford to pay for traditional health insurance; the workers can't either. But Ores' rates are affordable, because he isn't out to turn astronomical profits. "We don't have any middle person," he says. "That's the magic part." And, as a large group, they can focus on preventative programs: they can negotiate prices for something like flu shots, or take collective advantage of free programs, such as the no-cost mammogram testing the city sponsors every year.
Health insurance programs, on the other hand, are a racket, in Ores' eyes. The doctor's most astonishing contention is that rates of illness and injury remain level over time. For example, he says, the percentage of elderly women who break their hips in New Jersey, relative to the population, was in 2000 what it was in 1920. (Give or take five percent.) As such, the health insurance companies know how many people will suffer from an ailment, and thus how much it will cost to treat them.