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The future of health care, part II: An idea from Occupy Wall Street

March 9, 2012 - Mike Maneval
If the Supreme Court overturns all or part of the health care reform act of 2010 later this summer - or even if it doesn't - the U.S. Congress should continue to look for ways to improve the affordability of health care. One possible approach can be discovered in the activism of the Occupy Wall Street movement.

America's health care market presses against two realities of the free market. One of the free market's strengths is in the elasticity of demand - if the price of iPods or exercise equipment or potatoes is too steep, consumers simply will decline to purchase iPods or exercise equipment or potatoes until the emerging surplus in supplies forces merchants to cut the prices to more reasonable levels. But health care services are atypical: The man with a broken arm or the woman with a respiratory infection likely won't and certainly shouldn't postpone medical treatment if the price is too steep.

Another strain on supply and demand stems from state licensing for health care professionals, such as surgeons and nurses. In a free market, when a good or service is overpriced, others will enter the market to produce and sell the good or service. The ensuing competition will provide more pressure to drive consumer prices downward. And yet, very few, mostly found in the fringes of libertarian and objectivist activism, would support the elmination of licensing for medical professions, so consequently the majority supports a long-standing policy that limits supply and creates barriers to competitive pricing.

When Occupy Wall Street began its campaign, one proposal championed by many of the activists involved was the forgiveness of student loan debt - a massively expensive act of public assistance that frankly is naive and impractical.

But forgiving the student loan debt, along with expanding pell grants and other existing programs to pay for the post-secondary education of health care professionals - nurses, medical doctors, physicians and research technicians - would be a more realistic goal, providing two advantages to consumers.

The policy would encourage a larger supply of Americans competing to provide services to consumers, and would eliminate expenses to enter the market that medical professionals ultimately pass on to consumers. It's a solution that helps both working Americans and the consumers who create their jobs.


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