“Affordable” Health Care

Don Boudreaux makes a very important point: “Health care” is not an all-or-nothing affair.

One of my favorite examples [of meaningless statements] comes from the New York Times’ Thomas Friedman, who asserted, in his Thanksgiving Day 2004 column, that “half the country can’t afford health care.”

This statement is neither right nor wrong. A statement must be meaningful to be right or wrong. But this statement is meaningless.

Friedman writes as if health care is a well-defined thing that someone either gets or doesn’t get — sort of like pregnancy. You either are or you aren’t pregnant.

But health care, like most things in life, is not like pregnancy. It comes in an enormous range of degrees. At one extreme is the amount and quality of health care that Bill Gates might purchase — personal physicians and pharmacists, each devoted exclusively to Gates; monthly physicals conducted with the most advanced technology; immediate transportation in a private jet to the world’s finest hospitals for treatment by the world’s most acclaimed physicians; and recuperation at luxurious Swiss resorts attended round-the-clock by a staff of doctors, nurses and dieticians of unparalleled excellence.

Now imagine the opposite extreme — the case of someone who can afford no health care at all. This horribly unfortunate person would not only be unable to visit a physician to check out that runny nose or that blurry vision, he could not afford even to buy over-the-counter antihistamines, aspirin, cough drops, rubbing alcohol, hydrogen peroxide, reading glasses, Band Aids, athlete’s-foot spray, vitamins, toothpaste, condoms, or any of the many other health care and personal hygiene products for sale in every supermarket.

Cafe Hayek

My own comment on this article:

Some seven years after this column saw print, the FDA approved the TAVI — Transcatheter Aortic Valve Implant — for human use. Two months ago, I underwent this procedure.
I had originally been scheduled for open heart surgery to replace a defective valve, but this option was taken off the table when I was diagnosed with cancer. At the time this column was written, there would have been no plan B (unless you count waiting for the valve to deteriorate to the point where it killed me, a plan I don’t really like).

But now, fourteen years after this column was written plan B was to insert a device through the artery in my groin and expand it over the defective valve.

I was out of bed and on my feet less than 48 hours after the valve replacement. I’m very happy with how well the procedure worked, and I can say I’m a big fan of 21st Century medicine.

At the turn of the century, this procedure was not available at any price. Even Bill Gates would not have been able to buy it, because it would have involved funding a major research program. Now, I fully expect the price of this procedure to drop (I didn’t have the nerve to ask in my case), and to become the default procedure for treating defective heart valves.