What you WON’T Know Can Kill You

 Posted by on 11 June 2009 at 11:01 pm  Health Care, Psychology
Jun 112009
There’s something I don’t quite understand about the claim in certain studies that much of the healthcare Americans receive “provides little or no real benefit.” What I don’t understand is — what do people expect to observe under a regulatory scheme the aim of which is to encourage more doctor’s visits?

Isn’t true that, since the advent of laws and regulations establishing tax-free health insurance benefits from employers, Medicare, and Medicaid, people have simply made more visits to doctors? Isn’t it one of things being touted in Massachusetts, at least in the early days after its coverage mandate, that people were getting to see doctors more? Isn’t the goal of “universal coverage” to give people money to go see the doctor — so that they’ll go more often?

And isn’t it the case that things that are cheap or free tend to get consumed in higher quantities?

So if policymakers make healthcare cheap or free — or seemingly so — wouldn’t you think that the resulting extra doctors’ visits are made when there really isn’t too much for a doctor to fix? Wouldn’t that tend to make healthcare under such a system less likely provide any real benefit? I mean, if you’re running to the doctor every time you have a runny nose, how much benefit can such visits to the doctor provide?

Plus, how are you supposed to measure the “real benefit” of preventative care visits?

I’m not saying that the studies aren’t valid. I’m not a statistician. I’m saying that these studies are trivial. You don’t need a study to conclude that when something is free, people will tend to consume it even when they can’t get very much “real benefit” out of it. All people have to do is take a brief and honest look at how their spending changes whenever the price of something goes down. But such elementary self-knowledge is apparently evaded en masse.

The real aim of such studies isn’t to learn anything, it’s to score political points. For though the studies may be trivial, they’re being touted to pernicious effect. In response to such studies we observe no critical mass of policymakers making the sensible suggestion, which is to establish a free market in healthcare. In a free-market healthcare system, healthcare professionals would have to compete on price and healthcare consumers would have to do comparison shopping instead of mindlessly consuming healthcare products and services. Policymakers aren’t finally admitting they need to deregulate healthcare. The “lesson” policymakers are taking from this “growing body of research” is: healthcare providers have to be regulated even more. They think we need more laws telling physicians what kinds of care will provide “real benefits,” and that physicians and patients can’t be allowed to decide, based on the facts of a given patient’s case, what the appropriate treatment should be.

In other words, today’s policymakers act as if the solution to low-benefit healthcare products and services is through strangling regulation to make those products and services even less beneficial. They are at once clamoring that people need to be given money to spend on a product — and then taking that product off the market.

When private parties decide to forego a certain treatment, that’s exercising their right to make decisions in their own lives. When the goverment decides someone should forego a certain treatment, even if they want it and someone else is willing to provide it — that’s mandatory rationing.

But you don’t need studies to demonstrate the truth of this, either. Look north to Canada. Look back to the Soviet Union, and the queues of people lining up to buy worthless things because it was either buy those things or paper their walls with useless rubles. When you outlaw buying decisions based on price you end up with government rationing. All the proof needed is right in front of everyone’s eyes, it’s just as impossible to miss as a “church by daylight.” (Thank you, Shakespeare.)

I guess what I’m failing to understand is what I’ve never understood — why people are willing to evade facts even when such evasion is literally life-threatening.

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