Wednesday, January 12, 2011

How To End Either Global Warming Or The Affordable-Healthcare Crisis

Originally published as "Let's swap the roles of health, car insurers," Middletown Press, Bristol Press and New Britain Herald, November 23, 2008


During the recent presidential election, two issues got a lot of coverage: America’s affordable-health care crisis, and that whole mess about global warming and carbon emissions. Fortunately, I’ve discovered a plan that will completely eliminate one of these problems.

Unfortunately, solving one problem will make the other worse. But that shouldn’t bother American voters, since they’re already accustomed to choosing between the lesser of two evils.

I discovered the plan while visiting my doctor — sorry, my “primary care physician” — for one of those good-health checkups insurance companies pay for once a year. A standard visit: half an hour filling out paperwork, 25 minutes alone in an examination room, three minutes with my doctor and a stethoscope, plus a couple weeks’ worth of time and phone calls getting the appointment in the first place.

The co-pay cost me $30. I have no idea how much my doctor billed the HMO.

Later that afternoon, I decided to get my car’s oil changed. No problem: drove to the first quick-lube shop I saw, waited 10 minutes and paid $25.

Anyway, here’s my Health Care or Environmental Salvation plan: Ordinary Americans will be able to afford medical costs by getting coverage through their car-insurance companies. Conversely, to end carbon emissions (by making driving too expensive for ordinary Americans to afford), let the HMOs handle auto insurance, too.

The great thing about car insurance companies is that you only deal with them for big-ticket items and handle everyday maintenance yourself. This makes automotive care affordable for almost everybody, which leads to more driving and more pollution.

Unless the HMOs handle it. Need an oil change? Then call your primary car mechanic and make an appointment through his secretary to determine that your car does, indeed, need an oil change, and you’ll be allowed to schedule a visit to an oil-care specialist three weeks from next Tuesday (don’t forget to ask your boss for time off work), and your mechanic bills the HMO some huge amount but your co-pay is only $25, plus another $20 for your primary car mechanic visit.

What happens when your tires start going bald? Once your PCM confirms this diagnosis in writing, the insurance company will pay for a new set at the tire shop five towns over from where you live (i.e., the nearest one belonging to your HMO’s automotive provider network. The other 19 tire shops in your area are off-limits to you).

Of course, if you want to buy a new car, you’ll need your PCM to check it over and look for pre-existing conditions. If the car’s in less-than-perfect shape, you might not qualify for coverage at all. Sucks to be you.

And let’s not forget gasoline! It’s extremely dangerous when used improperly, so instead of allowing folks to buy it willy-nilly, it’ll be prescribed on a need-only basis. Since you’re not legally responsible enough to determine that need on your own, your primary car mechanic will authorize how much gas you need, which station you can buy it from, the proper octane rating and whether you really need gas at all.

That said, you can get around the need-only restrictions if you’re friends with a mechanic who might be persuaded to prescribe you some gas for purely recreational purposes. Though if you try this, you both run the risk of arrest and prison time. The government takes recreational prescription use very seriously.