Opinion: A Free Market Improvement for the U.S. Healthcare System
We should reduce occupational licensing and federal requirements for medical professionals. We should decrease the duration and monopoly powers of drug patents. We should end the failed War on Drugs. We should allow terminally ill patients to try whatever drug they desire as treatment if their doctor cosigns the decision. We should legalize home care as an option under Medicare. We should legalize competition between hospitals, pharmacies and countries.
When addressing the faults of the U.S. healthcare system, almost no politician will bring up these improvements. The healthcare debate has shifted so far off into strict comparisons and universality that it has ignored the fundamental problem posed: lack of competition.
Healthcare and social justices are the number one and two most talked-about issues by the 2020 U.S. Democrat Presidential candidates. There’s a lot of unique proposals thrown around, but a majority of them seem to simply not address the correct underlying issue.
The U.S. healthcare system provides some of the highest cancer survival rates, publishes the most medical journals, boasts the best hospitals, files the most patents, develops the newest molecular entities (NMEs) and holds the most advanced equipment such as MRI’s per capita. Despite this, it is ranked low by the World Health Organization in comparison to other developed countries; some argue the rankings are politicized. Either way, although the U.S. healthcare system may have innovation and faster services on its side, its high costs and lack of universality drag the perception of it lower. These higher costs can be attributed to barriers to entry in the market along with heavy FDA regulation on drugs.
In order to legally become virtually any type of medical professional, you are required to attend expensive higher education classes for years, sometimes even partaking in a decade of schooling and apprenticeship. Then, on top of these arbitrary requirements, it often costs over $700 just to obtain a medical license. Even after spending hours retrieving documentation, you typically have to wait 60 days to attain it after you apply. Many people don’t realize the cesspool of bureaucracy doctors or basic physicians have to go through just to be legal employees. These federally forced requirements deter people from pursuing a degree or job in the medical field, which decreases the quality and options of medical workers to choose from. This results in high costs to become a doctor and artificially raises salaries that people are willing to work for.
This kind of government intervention creates flaws that are blamed on privatization. In a free-market system, occupational licensing should be free or optional, not a government money-making scheme. Even without federal labels, there are plenty of widely-used organizational certifications and review platforms such as Healthgrades. It should be up to hospitals, medical centers and customers to decide what qualifications they desire or are willing to pay for.
Hospital labor costs in the U.S. are already extremely high compared to most nations, but individual drug prices and alternatives are also some of the highest in the world. Some of these are generic drugs, with no difference to European counterparts. The costs are higher in the U.S. mainly because it takes days and hundreds of millions of dollars just for the FDA to approve something that has often been used for months in other countries. It can be dirt cheap to manufacture a drug, but development and government approval can cost an unprecedented amount that considerably raises prices. Even alternatives such as medical marijuana can cost over $100 to legally use when you are already eligible. These licenses and regulations aren’t making people safer or healthier, they are just encouraging illegal use while grabbing money from law-abiding citizens that just want affordable healthcare alternatives.
The FDA, like most other federal agencies, is filled with bureaucrats that often have limited knowledge in their agency’s field (in this case food safety, medication and pharmaceutics). They have made extremely restrictive or unreasonable laws. For example, it is technically illegal to import medication, including foreign-made versions of drugs that have been approved for use in the U.S. While this law may be hard to enforce for personal use, it still deters strictly law-abiding citizens and limits free trade across borders. Even for drugs in the U.S. that are FDA approved, it’s possible that they never actually finished their clinical trials and were still let off. The FDA is susceptible to corruption, often does nothing for actual safety, and greatly burdens innovation through excruciating costs and time involvement.
The vast majority of Americans have access to the U.S.’s high-quality healthcare, with over 84% of people consistently having a regular place to go for medical care. While the U.S. has far from the worst healthcare system, it still has much room for improvement. The current problems stem from federal control; the answer isn’t to give the government even more control. By cutting regulatory burden, removing trade barriers on medicine, legalizing the use of drugs with medical properties, making occupational licenses affordable or optional and reducing the monopoly power of patents, the U.S. healthcare system would reduce government intervention and, as a result, both increase in accessibility and efficiency.