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article imageOp-Ed: Fixing Healthcare in A Free Market: Improved Quality of Care

By Michael Billy     May 22, 2008 in Health
Returning the healthcare system in the United States to a free market would increase the overall quality of care in the industry.
-- This article is part 4 of a 5-part series --
Lets, once again, look at the case of government-run grocery insurance. Under that program, most people would be taking the more expensive food items, like prime rib and lobster, instead of ground beef and canned tuna. This would cause an artificial demand for those products, which would inevitably lead to a shortage due to an inability to keep up production. This shortage would lead to long waiting lines for those expensive and rare foods.
Imagine planning a large dinner party, that is going to take place in one week, but the waiting time for one of the menu items is nearly thirty weeks. What recourse could be taken to obtain that food? The black-market could be looked at, but that can always be dangerous and it can never be known whether or not you are getting what you asked for. A more logical solution might be paying a visit to a neighboring country that does not have government-funded grocery insurance to purchase the food, at full price, in a free-market environment.
Why is it that people from all over the world come to the United States when they need major medical operations? The above scenario answers this question quite clearly. In countries that have one form of Socialized Medicine or another there are often long waiting lines for treatment. In Great Britain, for example, 900,000 people are waiting for admission to government run hospitals at any given time. In Sweden, there is a twenty-five week waiting period for heart surgery, and a one-year waiting list for hip replacement surgery. Twenty-five weeks is a long time to wait for a heart, and if someone on that list has enough money to pay for the surgery on their own, then they are likely to come to the United States, the only developed nation with a semblance of free-market medicine, to get the procedure done. Otherwise, they might just die waiting.
In Canada, a country whose Socialized Healthcare system is often propped up on a pedestal by American politicians, there are also long waiting lines to receive treatment. Access to new technologies is also restricted, and sometimes people are rejected treatment altogether. These problems, especially the lack of new technologies, have driven Canadians across the border to gain access to the healthcare system of the United States. As the New York Times points out, “Canada has moved informally to a two-tier, public-private system. Although private practice is limited to dentists and veterinarians, 90 percent of Canadians live within 100 miles of the United States, and many people are crossing the border for private care.” Many Canadians are choosing to cross the border and pay for treatment instead of waiting for admission into the government-funded hospitals.
If the healthcare system in the United States were allowed to operate under a true free-market, then the quality of care would increase even more. Without restrictions from the FDA that drive the cost of developing new medications to $800 million, smaller companies would be able to compete with the larger companies. This would allow more, potentially life saving, medications to be produced. More medical technologies would also be developed allowing for better care for the consumer. Even family practices could work with a far better outcome in a free-market system.
Take, for instance, the case of James W. Brook, a practicing family physician in Idaho Falls, Idaho. He has decided to only accept cash in his practice, thus eliminating the paperwork needed to deal with insurance companies and the government, through Medicare and Medicaid. By doing so, he was able to reduce his average charge to $37 per patient. That fee also included some antibiotics, lab fees, medications, and house calls.
This has saved his patients a great deal of money, while also increasing the quality of their care. According to Brook, “I calculated that if I charge $30 for something now, in order to come out the same, I would need to charge $107 if I had the same financial constraints as most doctors. I would have an extra $34 in overhead per patient, raising the fee to $64. Then to collect that $64, I would have to charge $107.” At the same time, he offers same-day services, flexible hours, and substantial time with his patients, all of which are in stark contrast to the long waiting lines, strict hours, and rushed care that is present in Socialized Medicine.
Without the current restrictions place on the industry by the United States government, the quality of care would be able to improve even more through competition in the marketplace.
Additional information for this article obtained from the book Healthcare edited by Nancy Harris
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