A Free Market in Health Care?

Recantly, the Albuquerque Journal, New Mexico’s largest newspaper, included a letter to the editor from a reader who decried the “failure” of our “free market” health care system. To anyone famililar even in passing with American health care, this concept of a freewheeling, un-regulated health care marketplace might seem to be in stark contrast to the heavily-regulated system now in place.
I pointed out these simple facts in a published response to the letter which can be found below:

In a letter to the editor, Richard Mason recently labeled our health care system “an unregulated free market.” He argued that legislation introduced in the 2008 legislative session that would have created a New Mexico Health Care Authority that Mason argues would solve our problems. Unfortunately, he doesn’t explain exactly how this system would lower costs and improve access to care.
The assertion that our health care system is “free market” is baffling. I don’t have enough time and space to list all the ways in which government intervenes in health care, but here are a few of the big ones: Government spending via programs like Medicare and Medicaid to name just two, accounts for 46 percent of all health care spending. Federal tax policies favor third-party-purchased coverage by allowing employers to purchase coverage tax-free, thus taking cost decisions out of the hands of individuals. States also regulate care, thus piling on costly mandates. New Mexico has 51 of them.
On the supply side, licensing and other regulations enacted at the behest of the medical profession have constricted the supply of doctors and other health-care professionals. Many states also require “Certificate of Need” permission from the government prior to construction or expansion of certain health care facilities.
The fact is that while we don’t face a truly “socialized” health care system as seen in many other countries our health care system is not a “free” market. Before using government to “cure” our health care system, it would behoove all of us to become educated on the ways in which current government policies increase costs and reduce the availability of care.