A short while ago, one of my relatives gave birth to a baby girl. Within hours after delivery, being thoroughly exhausted, the new mother found herself trapped between the need for relaxation and the motherly instinct to caress her newborn, a conflict which the hospital recognized, though the mother had said nothing. The hospital offered a solution: in a gesture appearing to be kindness, the hospital offered to take the newborn into the nursery for a short while so the mother could recuperate, with which the mother agreed. But when the mother and her husband received the bill long after they’d left the hospital, they found themselves in a state of shock: the price of utilizing the nursery alone cost upwards of $800 dollars. Begrudgingly, they paid their portion of the bill, incapable of any effective protest.
I myself have borne my share of unreasonable billing, but I’ve heard worse from others. A family friend received flowers while staying at the hospital, something for which the nurse offered a small service: testifying that a single aspirin would preserve the roses, she offered one; the patient later received an aspirin bill for $24.
These abuses highlight a particularly nasty aspect of the American medical system, one which leftists are only fair in assailing. For those who use the medical system, ostensibly, have a need which oftentimes must be met, within a short amount of time, without the knowledge of either cost-effectiveness or efficiency. In short, when the intoxicants of desperation and ignorance become intermixed, they blend into a poisonous financial cocktail, granting seemingly unlimited powers to the business, and few rights to the suffering. And even supposing the average patients’ needs are less than urgent, though patients may escape desperation, they still succumb to debilitating ignorance. They know neither the procedures nor services available, nor how to price either. The buyer is entirely at the mercy of the seller, the former’s only defense an insurance company which may or may not be available, and even if available, which may or may not actually cover the buyer’s expenses.
This ignorant dependency, of course, is antithetical to free-market capitalism, the abuse’s pain only partially numbed by the insurance company which further disconnects buyers and sellers, debilitating market forces even more abominably. Perhaps conservatives have been slow to recognize the horrors of dependency simply because no medical monopolies technically exist, thus giving the impression that Americans, however abused they may be, have a choice in the matter. But even should multiple companies exist, the knowledge of competition serves no purpose, supposing the public is ignorant of how well the companies compete. This ignorance, then, is the primary obstacle to the American free-market healthcare system.
If ignorance is the enemy, then sensibility recommends that Americans be concerned with buyer education. Imagine, if you will, that instead of an illegibly long healthcare bill which mandates insurance coverage, we had instead a short bill, directed at the internet publishing of medical prices. According to this bill, which in the interest of states’ rights would be adopted on the state level, every clinic and hospital would be required by law to publish the prices for their goods and services on a government website, the price of goods remaining effective for a week after publishing, and the price of services for up to a month.
Under this plan, citizens would be armed with information: no longer subject to the surprise of desperation, every family would compare prices online beforehand, knowing well who gouged, and who competed. They would go to general practitioners, who would charge a published fee for the examination, and then after receiving a recommendation and a list of needed services, they could shop online to see who offers the best price. Each price for each service could be lined next to every other hospital’s, so that the customer could get a general impression of the hospital’s fairness. Differences of pricing could be accompanied by a brief explanation, easily accessible to every citizen, in which the medical facilities themselves would explain the value of their services, and why higher prices resulted in greater benefits.
Immediately after having their fees published, medical companies would lower their prices: none would dare gouge, when their competitors could simply lower their prices by a hundred dollars (perhaps a few hundred!) and win hordes of loyal patients. Even should a patient remain willfully ignorant, he would still benefit in this scenario, since the companies would be forced to assume public competence. In this scenario, a market would exist; insurance companies would become far less necessary (though insurance would still be more properly utilized for serious medical emergencies), and medical leftism would lose its teeth. Perhaps we might even see overgrown hospitals give way to smaller and more specialized clinics, streamlining their business models to provide the cheapest and most effective specialization possible, instead of one hospital attempting to cover all aspects of service, and having the average customer pay for it.
Need we suffer radical restrictions of liberty, when so simple and American a solution lies before us? Our president is right when he says technology will bring America into the future; we already have the technology to reform the medical industry, a ubiquitous web of information, so let us utilize it. For if public opinion is to be so favorably swayed against Obamacare that the bill may be repealed, men must first believe that a solution to the present injustice exists. And what better way to combat an injustice of price, than by busting an effective monopoly? For an effective monopoly is what we have, when men have a variety of stores in which to shop, but few means of comparison, if any. We needn’t delude ourselves by pretending that multiple businesses equal competition: let us strike, before time makes Obamacare publicly accepted, and our medical industry collapses under private greed and state incompetence.