Health Costs Are Rising Because Of Price Controls

When discussing government involvement in the health sector, I usually focus on the budgetary implications. Which makes sense since I’m a fiscal wonk and programs such as MedicareMedicaid, and Obamacare are diverting ever-larger amounts of money from the economy’s productive sector.

I also look at the tax side of the fiscal equation and complain about how the healthcare exclusion mucks up the tax code.

Though it’s important to understand that government involvement doesn’t just cause fiscal damage. All these programs and policies contribute to the “third-party payer” problem, which exists when people make purchases with other people’s money.

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Such a system is a recipe for inefficiency and rising prices since consumers generally don’t care about cost and providers have no incentive to be efficient. And since government figures show that nearly 90 percent of health care expenditures are financed by someone other than the consumer, this is a major problem. One that I’ve written about manymany times.

But there’s another economic problem caused by government – price controls on insurance – that is very important. Indeed, the fights over “community rating” and “pre-existing conditions” are actually fights about whether politicians or competition should determine prices.

The “Death Spiral”

Simply stated, politicians want insurance companies to ignore risk when selling insurance. They want artificially low premiums for old people, so they restrict differences in premiums based on age (i.e., a community rating, enforced by a guaranteed-issue mandate), even though older people are statistically far more likely to incur health-related expenses.

They also want artificially low premiums for sick people, so the crowd in Washington requires that they pay the same or similar premiums as healthy people (i.e., a pre-existing conditions mandate), even though they are statistically far more likely to incur health-related expenses.

Set aside that the entire purpose of insurance is to guard against risk. Instead, let’s focus on what happens when these types of price controls are imposed.

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Ed Dolan 4 months ago Contributor's comment

Good summary of the problems with the ACA. I 100% agree that getting rid of the tax preference for employer-provided insurance would help a great deal.

A couple points where we might differ in the way we would pursue similar goals: I agree, high risk pools are one way to handle those with pre-existing conditons, but I think universal catastrophic coverage (an idea favored even by Milton Friedman) might be better. See here for a further discussion: www.talkmarkets.com/.../unintended-consequences-of-healthcare-decentralization

Also, with regard to federalism, yes, the states have a role to play, but decentralization is a two-edged sword. Embracing it without careful planning could have unintended consequences. See here: www.talkmarkets.com/.../unintended-consequences-of-healthcare-decentralization