A version of this Health Alert appeared at Forbes.
Consumer Reports has published an article demanding that we get “mad about the outrageous cost of health care.”
Hey, I’m all for that. The article goes through the usual list of subjects, e.g. $37.50 for a single Tylenol, having two or three MRI scans when one will do, etc. The article also asserts that “health care works nothing like other market transactions. As a consumer, you are a bystander to the real action…” I could not agree more. However, I was a taken aback by a statement from George Halvorson, the former Chairman of Kaiser Permanente:
“There is no such thing as a legitimate price for anything in health care,” says George Halvorson, former chairman of Kaiser Permanente, the giant health maintenance organization based in California. “Prices are made up depending on who the payer is.”
It is the last sentence that is so wrong that I thought it deserved a blog post, especially as it came from one of the most accomplished healthcare executives in the United States. Prices made up depending on “who the payer is” is not unique to health care. It is a characteristic of almost all markets.
In undergraduate economics classes, they teach the characteristics of a “perfectly competitive market.” One of those characteristics is that suppliers are price-takers. One apple vendor, more or less, will have no impact on the market, so one vendor entering or leaving the market will not change the price, especially as an apple is an undifferentiated commodity. This refers to the “law of one price.”