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The National "Auto" Health Insurance Program

Notes from an emergency room doctor: On the road the other day, my car started vibrating, with grey smoke pouring out the exhaust. "Uh, oh," I moaned, managing to barely limp into the service station.

It'll run about a thousand bucks," the mechanic said, and the rest of what he had to say went into the fuzzy recall of my brain. "You need a new computer, a tune up, and blah, ba-blah, ba-blah ..." Ask me about valves in the heart, I'll answer. Ask me about valves in a car, and you'll get a vacant stare. All I really understood was that to fix it would cost "a thousand bucks." I grumbled a little but gave him the go ahead. "It'll be ready tomorrow," he assured me.

While the service station shuttle drove me home, I noticed a lot of other "sick" cars on the side of the road - some just left there to die, others with their owners glancing forlornly under the hood. And quite a few were on the road that shouldn't have been. Some spewed out pollution, others looked like participants in a demolition derby.

Home, I dozed off thinking about all those unfortunate people that had no insurance and no money to fix their cars and drove those dangerous clunkers on the road. And that night I dreamt -

The President signed the bill and handed souvenir pens to a coterie of senators and congressmen. NATIONAL AUTO HEALTH INSURANCE was now law.

Well, I thought, this is great. That $1000 repair would now cost me zilch. And from now on no one would have to drive a sick car.

"Is my car ready?" I asked the service manager the next day.

"It's gonna be another week or two," he answered curtly. "We'll call ya."

"But...!

"We'll call ya," he huffed, and turned to another customer.

"But you said I need a new transmission," this other car owner argued. "Why can't you put one in?"

"The government only covers you when your transmission goes out completely. You can still drive in 1st."

"How 'bout," this desparate car owner whispered surreptiously, "if I pay you a little something extra?"

"You know," the manager said angrily, "I could lose my license accepting money out of the system." And he turned away, ignoring the line of cars that now wrapped around the block as he took his scheduled break.

I walked over to the service bays to see how my car was doing. The mechanic that had been working on it was now busy tuning up a thirty year old Plymouth.

"What's the matter with this one?" I asked.

"It's thirty years old," he answered. "It's here every other day. It's never gonna be perfect, but the owner expects it to run like new, and since it doesn't cost him anything, he just keeps bringing it on in."

"How 'bout my car?" I asked.

"Well, I'd have it fixed by now," he said, "but these car health provider groups only authorize us to use one type of cheap computer for all these cars. Yours needs something different. So we've got to apply for a special dispensation. That'll take weeks."

While shaking my head in frustrated disgust, I noticed another mechanic working on that car with the bad transmission. How did that happen, I wondered. I went over to ask him if he could expedite my car too. He took me aside. "Sure," he said, holding out his palm.

After waking the next morning, I went to pick up my car. The service manager was gracious, polite. The car worked like new. And National Car Health Insurance was a dream.

Although our health care system runs imperfectly, it remains the best in the world. I hope that while trying to "tune it up," Congress remembers the premiere rule of medicine, "first, do no harm."