Americans love the free market. Whenever there is an economic problem that the government can’t solve, the common chant from both sides of the aisle is to “deregulate the industry” and let the free market take care of itself.
The same argument is often made for fixing the US healthcare system, which even its staunchest defenders admit has become unsustainably expensive. But the mistake here is the assumption that healthcare obeys the laws of the free market.
A free market is one in which consumers have choice, and in which their bargaining power is enough to reward companies that provide quality service, and starve those that don’t. But as it happens, healthcare is probably the single industry where consumers have the least choice.
The need for health care is universal, but it’s also something you can’t control. You can’t choose when you’ll need an ambulance, when you’ll catch the flu, or when you’ll develop cancer. And even if you could choose when to need care, you usually can’t choose where to get care. You options are limited. The stakes are high. You’re at your most vulnerable. And you’ll pay the price.
Don’t get me wrong. The free market is great. But there are some things it can’t solve. Healthcare is just one of them.
(If you interested, Ezra Klein did a short video about this for Vox last year. It’s not bad.)