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