Friday, October 3, 2008

Thought Experiment

What if more things worked like health insurance?


DISPATCHER sits over a bank of computer terminals, nervously adjusting his headset. He reaches for a volume dial. CHIEF sits at a table in the background behind Dispatcher, nursing a cup of coffee.

DISPATCHER: Chief, we're getting a call. It's the Taylor house on 38th.

CHIEF: Mmm. That's too bad. Nice place. How's their coverage?

DISPATCHER: They don't have any, sir. Their policy was cancelled two months ago when Mr. Taylor was laid off.

CHIEF: What!? They didn't bother to get private coverage? How irresponsible can Mr. Taylor be?

DISPATCHER: Well, they said they couldn't afford the premiums. And Mr. Taylor is a smoker. You know what that does to rates. Besides, with the deductibles on the private plans, they'd have to burn down two houses before we picked up anything.

CHIEF: Yeah, you're probably right. Well, that settles it. We can't afford to respond. The risk of not receiving payment is too high. We can't operate a business like that.

DISPATCHER: Too true, sir. Actuaries are in full agreement. And the initial assessment is sound. The house is too far away from neighboring property for the fire to be contagious. It'll burn itself out without any trouble.

CHIEF: Oh, good. No worries about liability. I'll take the call. (dispatcher presses a button on the console) Mrs. Taylor? I'm sorry, but we're just going to have to let your house burn down.

MRS. TAYLOR's voice breaks in over the intercom.

MRS. TAYLOR: (clearly distressed) baby is in there! You have to save my baby!

CHIEF: I'm sorry, ma'am, but we just can't help you. Why don't you call the emergency fire department? They're required by law to come help, even if you don't have coverage.

MRS. TAYLOR: But everyone's calling the emergency fire department lately! It could take them hours to get here!

CHIEF: Well, Mrs. Taylor, I'm sorry to say this, but we wouldn't have that problem if people would just be responsible and make sure they always had fire insurance. This is America, and people have to be willing to be accountable for their own bad decisions. We can't make the taxpayers bear the burden of a few careless people whose houses catch on fire. (he coughs) Especially smokers like your husband. It's just a disaster waiting to happen.

Mrs. Taylor continues to weep in the background. The Dispatcher and Chief exchange glances, shrug, and terminate the connection.

DISPATCHER: I really think that the free market has done wonders for the firefighting industry. We spend so much less time answering unnecessary calls.

CHIEF: It's like my father always said. There's nothing that can't be improved by privatization. Who wants the government interfering with our lives?

DISPATCHER: Yep. Besides, there's no "right to firefighter services" listed anywhere in the Constitution. America really has become a nation of whiners.

CHIEF: You said it. You want a cup of coffee?

DISPATCHER: Cream and two sugars, please.

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