Healthcare: Big Government Vs. Small Government

James Suroweicki has a great column in the New Yorker this week laying out why he believes Romney’s healthcare plan won’t work. Regardless of your opinion on the matter, he calls out some important and unique qualities of the healthcare industry that should be considered when weighing both candidates’ plans; that is, weighing how much we should rely on the free market versus the government to solve the healthcare cost crisis.

I recommend reading the entire article but here are a few of the most notable things to consider:

  1. Unlike most consumer goods, healthcare consumers don’t have the expertise to properly value one treatment, hospital, or doctor versus another.
  2. Most major healthcare purchases are made by insurers, not consumers, so they lack a direct say on the price of a treatment.
  3. One way for a buyer to get a seller to reduce their price is to walk away and not buy the product at all.  In healthcare, consumers can’t just walk away from treatments like they can a new car or a new cell phone -- they have to buy the treatment to survive.

These fundamental realities of the healthcare industry make this issue far more complex than the simple big government/small government ideologies that many of us use to guide our political and economic beliefs.