The purpose of market is to provide a place for the producer and consumer to form voluntary contracts. The market has no intrinsic morals and only one rule: the best deal. The producer makes supply, the consumer makes demand. Between them, and the competition of various producers to provide for various consumers, this constant desire for the best deal drives price ever downward. It rewards the most efficient producer and the most efficient consumer alike. It’s almost a kind of magic.
Market failure doesn’t refer to a total break down of the buying and selling but a break down of the magic, of the automatic best deal for everyone. It’s not discrete point, but direction the market can go. The opposite direction leads to the perfect market. It too is not a destination but a direction, the ideal by which markets are judged.
A perfect market consists of a few key principals, describing the market as a game it looks like this: (1.) Rationality of all players in the game. (2.) No hidden costs to any move. (3.) Enough players that no single one can steer the game by their behavior. (4.) something all the players want to play with [demand] (5.) Freedom to play or not play at any point (6.) No barriers to entering or leaving the game (7.) No barriers to any player about information on any other player.
How does the medical industry fail these criteria?
Rationality of all players in the game
(1.)Well, first of all, the medical consumers are highly irrational. Short term fun at the expense of long term health is not rational, yet 80% of heat disease alone is preventable. Throw in smoking, obesity, diabetes, etc, and the single greatest killer is short sightedness. In a perfect world, doctors would serve as check on this irrationality, but the fact is, doctors are over-treating (which gets people killed) because of their fear of litigation. The consumer is crazy and so is the producer.
No hidden costs to any move
(2.)The whole field is full of hidden costs. From regulations you never heard of to taxes you can’t imagine, the medical field is a minefield of hidden costs.
Enough players that no single one can steer the game by their behavior
(3.) Well, about half of the cost is payed for by one player (gov-care), and up to 70% of the remaining half is payed for by one company per area. Normally, this would be called oligopoly, but honestly, its worse than that. Because the first half is the government, its more like a oligopoly on the second half and monopoly on the first. Under normal circumstances, even if a player owns 50% of the total market, that player can rarely take away your organization’s legal right to exist, or place members of your organization under arrest. The government has what is known as a monopoly on force. Monopoly represents a market distortion. Force, on the other hand, represents the nonexistence of market. The foundation of market is people forming contracts of their free will, ie, without threat of force.
Something all the players want to play with [demand]
(4.) Demand, we’ve got. Sort of. The fact is, while doctors may not be the paragons of reason we hope, the producer side (as is typical in other industries) is better at being rational then the consumer side. If nothing else, it’s better organized. The consumer demand is health, not care. But doctors have no economic incentive to pursue health. They have need to produce care. So there is break down between the needs of the consumer and the ability of the producer to meet that need. Note, I am not saying there is a conspiracy by doctors to keep people sick. Doctors are like most people: there’s a few true saints, a few evil bastards, and lot of pretty ethical folk. But the fact is, we must relay on doctors’ moral incentive and not their economic incentive to provide us with health. Systems work better when the two incentives are the same.
Freedom to play or not play at any point
(5.) This one absolutely does not apply. Playing in this case means the freedom to form or not form voluntary contracts. If the consumer doesn’t enter the market he suffers or dies. At the same time, if the producers do not enter the market many suffer or die. Further, hospitals must provide emergency care to everyone, regardless of ability to pay. On the insurance side, insurers must provide insurance to at a loss to certain high risk people. They must by law.
No barriers to entering or leaving the game
(6.) Well, the barriers to entering the game are enormous. Lets say we want to start a tiny private practice, with very limited services. First, the price of becoming a MD is between $175K and $200K. Then, the first year cost for 1600 square foot commercial space, a receptionist and tech who makes no benefits is about $250K. So, minimum startup cost is right around half a million dollars. Nor can hospitals simply exit the market, they provide a community service and without them people will suffer and die. Insurance is the most heavily regulated industry in the US, so even if cash on hand was not a problem the regulations would be, but in any case, and insurance company must have the cash on hand to pay out all claims if they were all called at once. The startup costs for an insurance company are in the tens of millions.
No barriers to any player about information on any other player
(7.) This is the worst. Insurance companies use hundred page contracts written legalese on purpose, to hide the information the consumer needs to know. At the same time, insurance fraud is a huge expense, because people aren’t honest with the companies either. If people are totally honest with doctors, their premium could go up. Conversely, if doctors are honest about risks with patients, the patients will simply go to another doctor who paints a rosier picture. Again, the moral incentive is diametrically opposed to the economic one.
All in all, it’s a wonder health care is as cheap as it is. Again, I’ve hit over 1000 words, so I will post my solution(?) later. Thanks for reading all, feel free to weigh in on any of this.