Thursday, October 09, 2008

Health Care as a Comodity

Atroubling trend in presidential debates that I have noticed is the tendency not to answer the question that was asked.

Candidates seem to have a template of talking points to cover and they just drop those points whenever they some key word in the question that matches the template.

Since the candidates won’t answer the questions, I’ll answer them here — the way they should have answered them in the first place.

I’ll start with the definition of health care, as asked last week in the “town hall” debate in Nashville between Barack Obama and John McCain.

Question: Do you believe health care should be treated as a commodity?

Senator Obama ignored the question, whined about how health care costs are “breaking family budgets,” and how McCain was going to tax health care benefits.

Senator McCain talked about his health care plan — which includes government giving everybody $5,000 to buy insurance — and how Obama is going to fine small businesses that don’t insure their employees.

Neither answered the question. So here’s my answer.

For the economically uninformed, a “commodity” is defined as a good or service for which there is a demand and abundant supply and for which that supply is essentially undifferentiated except for the price.

Using that definition, yes, there are many aspects of health care that are commodities. In fact, most trips to doctor’s offices are very routine. A prescription for an antibiotic; a bandage on a wound; relief from the symptoms of the flu or a sore back or a headache.

This is not to diminish the work of the medical profession — it just illustrates that a large portion of their work can easily be undifferentiated in the marketplace.

That type of treatment is rightly a commodity. In fact, health clinics to handle routine health care are already cropping up in pharmacies all across the nation, handled quickly and efficiently by medical paraprofessionals.

Do you know what happens when a product becomes a commodity? The price goes down!

I’ve seen it happen in the telecommunications industry. The telecom companies fought for years to guarantee that long distance and wireless voice communications were not commoditized. As soon as they were, competition and the invisible hand of the economy drove the price down — even while the quality of service went up!

It happened in telecom; it can happen in health care.

Let the marketplace determine the cost and availability of routine health care. I guarantee that if the government would get out of the way, everybody who needs health care would be able to afford it. The companies that provide the service would finally have the incentive to provide a quality service at a price that everybody could afford.

There are already government programs in place to act as a safety net in catastrophic and extreme circumstances — as there should be. But if the socialist policies of Obama and Hillary and the DNC were ever enacted as they would like, every antibiotic, every BandAid, and every tongue depressor would be dispensed by a Washington bureaucrat with the compassion of the DMV and the efficiency of the IRS.

That’s a scenario that should inspire Republicans and cure Democrats.

Yep, except in extreme cases, health care should be a commodity.

Maybe next time I can explain to Senator Obama the difference between a right and a responsibility.

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