What do history's most notorious despots have in common with many of the flag-waving, patriotic politicians of our day? Both groups rise to power through the exploitation of fear, which has become a societal plague. There have been widespread casualties. We need an antidote. Feardom offers its readers a much-needed immunization.
photo credit: That Other Guy
The health care industry has a large target painted on its back, drawing ire from frustrated individuals and scheming politicians alike. Public anger towards this market is certainly justifiable, given how expensive things have become. Basic care now requires both your arm and your leg as payment, causing penniless people to clamor for somebody who will fix the system, once and for all. The cries for “change” amid an imploding economy will, no doubt, lead to further government intervention and regulation—effectuated with the noble intent of solving our problems, but only resulting in further complications and rising prices.
There are a number of things that can be done to improve the cost and quality of health care in this country, and they all revolve around one basic concept: allow the free market to work. This maxim, if implemented, will dramatically improve things in rapid fashion. Doing so, however, is politically unacceptable by most, as it requires government to step out of the way to large degree, and allow the consequences of freedom to be carried out unabated.
I believe that there are two important steps that can be taken to immediately and substantially improve the health care industry. First, individuals should only use insurance for large, costly, and unforeseen medical needs. Second, prices for all medical services should be advertised up front to the potential patient.
When to use insurance
To illustrate the concept behind this recommendation, we can look at another form of insurance. Chances are you have automobile insurance, which in many locations is required by law to have. Now, imagine yourself using your car insurance when filling up your gas tank, changing your oil, rotating your tires, or going through a car wash. These laughable scenarios clearly show that insurance is properly intended only for large, costly, and unforeseen problems. If you are involved in a car accident or your vehicle is stolen, that would be a good time to use your insurance. Anything short of something drastic and rare like that would only serve to inflate everybody’s premiums, since the menial tasks listed previously occur quite frequently. Other forms of insurance, such as home or life insurance, are equally understood to be only used in extreme situations.
This principle is well accepted when applied to inanimate objects that are easily replaced, but when you involve a person’s body and health status, the situation changes. Routine medical exams and procedures—basic and frequent services—are now part of any comprehensive insurance package. This, of course, nullifies the true intent of insurance, and instead turns it into a pseudo-insurance system of prepaid consumption. The end result of this (government-enabled) practice is the overuse of services which drives up costs for everybody; any subsidized service in demand will lower costs in the short term, increase consumption and demand, and in the long run ultimately increase costs and decrease quality across the board. Thus we see the net result of socialized medicine and government intervention into the (health) marketplace.
Removing government regulation and subsidization of insurance packages and premiums would be an important first step towards inducing people to seek out personal policies that would cover only large, costly, and unforeseen medical needs. A reduced general insurance coverage would lead people to more judiciously use the health care system, and this decrease in demand would inevitably lower prices for everybody’s medical care.
Where’s the price tag?
When was the last time you were told how much a medical procedure would cost? While some proactive individuals do the necessary research and inquiry to determine what their medical care will cost for each service rendered, the vast majority of people have no idea until the bill comes. Nobody in their right mind would fix a broken furnace, for example, without having a clue about the costs involved. Since the marketplace is largely intact in most other spheres of economic activity, you can shop around, view prices, look for discounts, and haggle with somebody on price. When does this happen with health care?
The day you see a price menu at your local doctor’s office is the day the health care industry self-corrects through free market forces. Today, health care is burdened with all sorts of hidden costs, astronomical hourly fees, and a veil of economic ignorance that suppresses any ability for market principles to improve cost and quality. The competition for business created by mutually understood prices and corresponding services rendered would cause health care prices to plummet overnight. Each doctor would be forced to lower prices and improve care and customer service if they wanted to retain business, whereas right now patient retention is largely shielded from the doctor’s hourly rate.
In the first suggestion, government should get out of the medical insurance regulation and subsidy business, and allow insurance companies and individuals to find the same equilibrium other forms of insurance have for so long. In the second, government should enforce contract law by requiring health care providers to publicly disclaim the terms of their services, which includes prices of all services offered.
These two actions, if implemented, would far exceed anything else the government has done or is currently trying to do to allegedly improve the state of our health care industry. Further regulation is not the answer, and less government—not more—will allow market forces to both improve quality and decrease prices, as occurs in so many other types of markets. How do we fix the health care industry? We start by an annulment of the marriage between the industry and “do-good” government.
The lesson is clear: when government and other third parties get involved, health care costs spiral. The answer is not a system of outright socialized medicine, but rather a system that encourages everyone — doctors, hospitals, patients, and drug companies — to keep costs down. As long as "somebody else" is paying the bill, the bill will be too high. (Dr. Ron Paul, Lowering the Cost of Health Care)