Second Opinion
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Some years ago, I had my gall bladder removed. This was back before they started doing it in a civilized way, with only two pinpoint incisions. I had the kind where they cut a ten-inch gash across your belly.

The operation was set for very early in the morning, something like 6:30. I had sweaty, overactive, restless sleep the night before because, well, the doctor had the foresight to tell me about that ten-inch incision. So I was staring at the dim ceiling about an hour before the big moment, when a doctor I had never seen before jogged into my room, bouncing happily on the balls of his feet.

"Hi there!" he called cheerfully, barely glancing at me as he took my chart from the wall. "Gall bladder, eh? Pull up your pajama shirt please."

I did as asked, as patients do in that automatic way we are taught to obey doctors. He put the chart back, walked over to the bed, and tapped my stomach lightly once. "Yep," he said happily. "Gall bladder. Gotta come out. Bye." As quickly as he'd arrived, he jogged back out of the room, chuckling to himself. I was left to stare after him, wondering what the hell that was all about.

Recently, I was looking through some of my insurance records for that gall bladder operation, I guess out of some twisted nostalgia for the "good old days" when I couldn't use my stomach muscles for about a year. I noticed a puzzling line in the records that read, "Second Opinion: $200." My eyes narrowed. I didn't remember getting any second opinions -- just my regular doctor who referred me to the surgeon. But then it hit me: that happy guy. He was in my room for maybe half a minute, but that constituted my official second opinion. No wonder he was smiling: $200 dollars for 30 seconds of work. Sure, he had to get up early, but no earlier than the kid who does my paper route for a couple dollars a day.

I've since done a little research and discovered that this second opinion thing is common practice. Insurance companies won't pay for an operation without a second opinion, and $200 is pretty much the going rate. Is it cynical of me to think, "Gee whiz, what a racket!" or is it perhaps even more cynical to confess my true thought: "Hey, how do I get in on this racket?"

I'm a teacher. Mine is not what you would call an overpaid profession. But now I have a plan to earn the kind of money I so clearly deserve: educational second opinions. Here's how it would work. Every once in a while, I would call in sick to my regular teaching job and hit the road to various schools. Other teachers would show me their students' test. "I gave him a C," one teacher might say. "What's your opinion?"

I'd study the test, evaluate it closely, draw upon my many years of teaching experience and my vast education and training, then say, "There are ten questions on the test. He got seven correct and partial credit for another one. Yep, that's a C."

Then another teacher would hand me a particularly troubling student essay. "I just can't get a handle on the diagnosis," this teacher would lament, brow furrowed. "I think it's a B as far as content goes, but the grammar seems to indicate a C. What do you think?"

Hmm. This would be a tough one. I'd have to take this essay to my lab and put it up on a big lighted panel like the kind doctors use to examine x-rays. Let's see -- strong content, meaningful coverage of the topic, typed on non-erasable paper... but those troubling tense shifts, non-parallel sentences, comma splices. This would call for a very creative diagnosis. I'd meet with the teachers again. The air would stink with anticipation so thick that we'd have to force ourselves to breathe. "We've got some complications, people," I would say in a deep, wise voice-calm despite the life-and-death stakes of the moment. All eyes would be on me. "It's a B-/C+." The room would then fill with appreciative, reverential ohhs and ahhs.

Then I'd collect my $200 per opinion.

But wait. Who would I collect that money from? Who would be driving this gravy train? Here is the real genius of my plan: education insurance. Students are going to have to start paying for coverage to protect their futures against the uncertainties of education.

How much is getting an A worth? Can you put a dollar value on it? I can't, but I'm sure somebody can. And, once that amount is clear, we'll also know the value of a C. What is really crucial is that we'll know the exact dollar value difference between an A and a C. So education insurance will be necessary to protect future earnings against the fiscal tragedy of getting too many C's in school. And, more importantly, the big education insurance conglomerates will be only too happy to dish out $200 a pop to qualified teachers like me and my close friends who can offer the crucial second opinion that can make or break a student's future.

So only one problem remains in my grand scheme. What would happen when the second opinion doesn't match the original, and the teachers couldn't work out an agreement with their consultant? Hundreds of thousands of future-income dollars would hang in the balance for this unfortunate student. That's where I would come in once again. My ultimate plan puts me into an even higher income bracket. I wonder how much the insurance companies will pay for my third opinion?

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