When I was in high school, me and my buddies loved our cars just about as much as any other guys who were burdened with their virginities. Of course, we were poor, so our cars weren’t like Kevin’s Triumph Spitfire, Scott’s 1964 Mustang convertible, or the Porsche 928 that Tim’s dad would occasionally let him drive to school. No, my car was the ’79 Oldsmobile that went through four engines and two transmissions, had a stuffed monkey on the shift because the knob broke off. With my ’80s mullet buffeting the wind because the window wouldn’t roll back up, we’d just run our cars into each other in the high school parking lot as Bryan Adams blared from the sweet 100-watt speakers I had shoved tight into the back seat between the cushions.
We did things like this because we knew our cars were crap. That is, I did things like this up until I took a turn too hard, skidded into a curb, and bent the wheel’s tie rod to the inflation-adjusted tune of $600. I didn’t ask my dad to use the auto insurance to fix it because even though I was a boy, I knew that putting a claim on the insurance always meant that our premiums would increase. (Also, I didn’t ask my dad to use the insurance because this was the ’80s and it was still socially acceptable for him smack me around for being an idiot. But that’s another subject.) Insurance was for catastrophic losses, not the occasional repair that could be paid for out of pocket – my pocket, specifically. And once I learned what the real costs were if I didn’t treat my car right, my days of using it as a toy were over.
We accept that making a claim against our auto insurance always makes our premiums rise, and for a common sense reason: An insurance pool is not supposed to operate like your savings account. Insurance is designed to make the occasional huge payout which would otherwise financially ruin a person. Any one incident that dips into this pool makes the premiums of the entire collective go up. Nonetheless, the average insurance pool contains a huge amount of money that people are only too happy to stick their hands into.
Imagine, for example, what would happen to our car insurance rates if millions of people started using their insurance when they needed their oil changed. It wouldn’t take long before mechanics realized that they could charge whatever they wanted because their customers were paying with an insurance card instead of taking the cash out of their own pockets. It wouldn’t be too long after that until the motor oil producers realized that they could charge $50 for a quart of oil because the mechanics could afford to pay it. Then the dipstick manufacturers would charge $100 for a dipstick because $300 worth of engine oil shouldn’t be measured with a $2.99 dipstick. Then the American Oil Change Association would mandate years of advanced oil changing education and residencies in auto repair shops requiring prospective mechanics take out hundreds of thousands of dollars in student loans because – my God, man! – this is expensive motor oil we’re talking about. Then the lawyers would realize that the mechanics and motor oil producers and dipstick manufacturers had way too much money, and would begin seeking victims willing to settle out of court because nobody ever told them they needed to change their oil. Soon that $50 oil change would cost $5,000, people without insurance wouldn’t be able to afford to change their oil, and the government would claim it solved the problem by forcing people who don’t drive to buy car insurance.
You know, I’m glad that nothing like that has happened in real life.
Of course that’s the American Health Care System in a nutshell and this is why nobody should need health insurance.
Health care costs shouldn’t be so high that every bill from our doctor counts as a catastrophic expenditure that we have to send to the insurance company. No, health care costs should be low enough so that our treatments can be paid for out of pocket, and we don’t need to rely on an insurance pool with all its potential for misuse. But we are now trapped in a health care system where our constant use of health insurance has helped precipitate costs of care which are so high that… only health insurance can cover them.
How do we reverse this ever-deepening cycle? Beats me. I’m not an expert in dismantling cultures that feed off of insurance systems. There are so many factors balancing off each other here that I can’t even begin to pontificate on how to disassemble this house of cards. Maybe somewhere out there, in this great big world, there’s a kid with a stuffed monkey on his shifter and staring at a large car repair bill who one day will figure all this out.
Written by Matt Haarington
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