How Can We Achieve a Free Market in Healthcare?

 

My last post, “Why Is American Healthcare So Expensive?” suggests that we don’t have enough “skin in the game” because most costs are paid for by third party insurance companies.  One way to alleviate this problem is to subsidize insurance coverage only for catastrophic care with a high deductible and to encourage health savings accounts to pay for routine healthcare expenses.
CaptureBut the University of Chicago’s John Cochrane points out in “After the ACA: Freeing the market for health care” that getting to a true free market in healthcare “will be a long hard road” because “both supply and demand must be freed.”

  • Health care supply. Cost reduction only comes from new entrants into a business, not reform of old businesses. But in 36 states, for example, every new hospital or even major purchase requires a Certificate of Need issued by Hospital Equalization Boards which have explicit mandates to defend the profitability of existing hospitals.
  • Health care demand. True “need” is simply not a well-defined concept when a third party is paying the bills. The consumer must pay a lot closer to the full marginal cost of healthcare, or perhaps receiving the full financial benefits of any economies which he is willing to accept.

What are the objections to establishing a free market system?

  • The homeless and mentally ill, etc. Charity will always be needed for those who fall through the cracks. This doesn’t require a nanny state for the rest of us.
  • Adverse selection. In a free market sick people are more likely to buy insurance and healthy people to forgo it. Sick people would pay more but “health status” insurance and guaranteed renewability will mitigate this problem.
  • Shopping paternalism, i.e. people faced with serious illnesses are incapable of making cost-based decisions. These people and their families will simply have to learn to shop around. In a competitive market, a hospital which routinely overcharges cash customers will be “creamed by Yelp reviews.”

Conclusion.  There are only two ways to get health care spending under control.  A single payer system with rigid regulations and severe rationing or else a deregulated free market system where individuals have primary responsibility for their own care.  Americans are likely to prefer the second option if given a clear choice.

2 thoughts on “How Can We Achieve a Free Market in Healthcare?

  1. I like this. Very simply stated. Unfortunately, will be very hard to get to a free market. We haven’t had it in our lifetime. Too many powerful vested interests.

  2. I agree that there are many roadblocks to accomplishing this and that it will take a long time to get there. But American ingenuity could still get the job done eventually.

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