If you have been keeping up with the news, you are no doubt aware of the recent Department of Health and Human Services’ finger-wagging pronouncements to the health insurance industry. During a long drive back from a speaking engagement, I began to wonder how different my recent car buying experience might have been if those dictum were applied to the automobile industry.

After researching the car I wanted I found a dealer that would meet my price. While discussing the features of the car, I asked how much of the price was attributable to government requirements.

Surely, the seatbelts, catalytic converter, airbags and other equipment required by federal law added to the overall price of the car. Although it was just an academic question, the color drained out of the dealer’s face. The warm and hospitable person who had met me at the front door of the dealership suddenly became suspicious and wary.

The dealer said, “I can’t tell you that. If I do, I may lose my franchise.”

When I inquired further, the dealer informed me that the government had prohibited dealerships from discussing the cost of the required safety equipment with customers. Dealerships have been told by their manufacturers if they answered this question, there was a real risk that the government would no longer allow them to sell cars.

A government directive, well publicized in the press, maintained there was no cost for these additional features and suggested dealers whose price reflected any cost for these added items were simply profiteering.

Every consumer understands when features are added there is additional cost. Every American understands it is frightening to have the government threaten manufacturers that disclose that information to their customers.

But, of course, that could never happen in this country.

Check out more blog entries from David Saltzman.