Sarah Laskow says she’s willing to sign up for some much-cheaper not-quite-as-good health care pointing that doing so could help her afford more health care overall. Currently, what with regular trips to the eye doctor, an OB-GYN, and a dermatologist for melanoma checks she’s not inclined to spend money on seeing a GP. But if something like MelaFind made it possible for a general practitioner to quickly and cheaply do a pretty good melanoma check then three doctors’ visits worth of money would be getting her a larger actual quantity of health care services.
That seems like the right way to frame it for the public rather than my provocative claim about the virtues of “slightly worse but much cheaper” health care. What we’d really be looking at is specific instances of slightly worse but much cheaper health care in order to allow for the consumption of more health care services overall within a fixed budget constraint.
Still, my question about whether “we” really want cheaper health care speaks more to the collective choice aspect of things. Any time anything new and innovative comes along that can do something more efficiently than what comes before, some people will mobilize to try to block it. And the health care sector features a lot of safety regulations for obvious and perfectly sound reasons. But insofar as “this new thing isn’t really as good as what came before” counts as a valid objection, then the forward tide of efficiency can generally be stopped. Early movies didn’t have color or sound but that didn’t stop them from coming onto the market, improving, and eventually displacing live theater as the main form of dramatic entertainment. But that’s entertainment. We’re much more risk-averse with health care decisions for reasons that are, again, obvious and reasonable. Nobody dies from a bad movie. But these are the kind of things that have to happen for efficiencies to develop.