The Heath Care Industry: Protectionism the Free Traders Love
Suppose that people in the
For some reason, economists do not have the same attitude towards health care. Most seem little bothered by the fact that we spend more than twice as much per person as people in other countries, with no obvious benefit in terms of health care outcomes. This lack of concern is especially striking since health care is a far larger share of the
The excess health care spending comes to more than $1.2 trillion a year or the equivalent of more than $16,000 for a family of four. Paying too much for health care has the same economic impact as a health care tax. In effect, we have a health care waste tax that is about 10 percent larger than the projected federal revenue from the personal and corporate income tax combined. In short, this is real money.
However, the enormous waste in the
While features of health care can make trade in health care services more difficult than trade in autos, it is possible for the barriers to be bridged. If the self-proclaimed "free traders" who dominate the economics profession and policy debates actually were free traders, they would be pushing hard to allow people in the
There are several obvious paths through which the
The point would be to set up procedures through which students in countries like
An even simpler route for gaining from trade would be to allow Medicare beneficiaries in the
Finally, the government could try to standardize rules around the rapidly growing industry of medical tourism. Every year tens of thousands of patients travel to Thailand, India, and other countries to have major medical procedures performed at prices that are often less than one-tenth as much as those in the United States. The savings can easily offset the cost of travel for the patient and several family members. If facilities were regulated and clear rules established for legal liability, then more patients would be able to take advantage of the potential cost saving.
However the free traders are not interested in promoting free trade in health care. They would rather just tell us that there is nothing that can be done about exploding health care costs in the
Economists and other self-proclaimed free traders are anxious to use trade to reduce the income of manufacturing workers, but they are very happy to have protection for highly paid professionals. After all, their parents, siblings, and children can be doctors and dentists. They are unlikely to be autoworkers and steelworkers.
So, we are stuck in a hopelessly bloated health care system that most of the economists and pundits say cannot be fixed. Insofar as this is a true statement, it is because they and their wealthy friends do not want it to be fixed. It really is that simple.
-- This article was published on May 18, 2009 by Truthout.