Tag: Non-profit

Op-Ed: Health Care For Profit

I’ve noticed at The Health Care Blog quite a few people are obsessed with the role of profit in the health care system. Many apparently believe that for-profit entities have no legitimate role in an ideal world and that all organizations should be nonprofit.

My own view, interestingly enough, is the exact opposite. Were I a Health Care Czar, I would remove the nonprofit status from almost all health care organizations and force them to be for-profit under tax law. I would be willing to consider some exceptions here and there, and in special cases allow for-profits to set up nonprofit subsidiaries. But the vast majority of all patients in my ideal world would be dealing with for-profits — in getting health insurance and in getting medical care. And in return they would get lower-cost, higher-quality care.

Why do we have such radically divergent views on this subject? As so often happens in public policy, much confusion is caused when people are not familiar with basic economic principles. In this case, the antiprofit folks are confused about (1) the economics of capital, (2) the economics of competition and (3) the economics of motivation in complex social systems.

Suppose the government builds a hospital and plans to have the entity be self-sustaining (all operating costs are to be paid from expected revenues). Following conventional public sector accounting, the cost of the capital needed to build the hospital will be treated as zero. (Afterall, all we need is for the Treasury to write a check.) And even though the plan to cover costs with patient revenues is far from certain to pan out, the accountants will also ignore the cost of that risky decision.

This example is Exhibit A in my case for abolishing the nonprofit status of hospitals.

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