Monday, November 26, 2007

Laissez Faire Consumerism

Healthcare. Competition. If only there was some way to see what would happen.

Laissez Faire Medicine: What brings all this to mind is medical tourism. In the international marketplace a booming, bustling, vibrant, completely free market for medical care is emerging. Indeed, the words "free market" do not do it justice. It's as close to laissez faire capitalism as anything Adam Smith might have hoped for.

And guess what? In this market, patients are getting information about price, quality, you name it - the very information no one can get back home. The reason: since almost all "medical tourists" pay with their own money, providers compete based on price and quality. By contrast, providers back home do not compete based on anything.

Here's what's happening. Estimates vary, but as many as half a million Americans travel outside the United States for health care every year, and the number is growing by leaps and bounds. Amazingly, 70,000 British patients (who are supposed to be getting health care for free!) will leave the UK this year for health care abroad. These patients are going to such places as India, Thailand and Singapore, as well as countries south of our border. Americans are finding package prices (that may include airfare and hotel rooms) that are one-third, one-fourth or even one-fifth of what they would pay in the US.

Virtually every major US insurer is actively studying how to enter this international market.

But what about the poor? This is all about money. Exactly.