What Will the Doctors Do?


Getting more for less is what our economic well being is all about, assuming we acquire more through greater productive effort rather than from plundering our fellow citizens. While the coming government involvement in medical care has received extensive news coverage regarding its costs, its impact on the Federal budget, its many specific exemptions, and its mandated provisions, one of the most important aspects of Obamacare has seen scant coverage…. What will the doctors do?

How will private practice physicians respond as politically imposed prohibitions and fee-lowering mandates are imposed upon them? The answer to that question is going to be a harsh economic lesson with both unseen and unintended adverse consequences. Whenever any valuable commodity, in this case personal medical care, gets treated as a free good the result has been and always will be economic chaos.

Without question Obamacare will surely increase the demand for medical services from millions of new patients seeking personal care for little or no cost to them. But who will supply these additional services? Virtually ignored in public debate is how government mandated free medical care will impact on the professional behavior of private medical practitioners. One of the most fundamental principles of economics gives us the answer to that question: As prices fall, more will be demanded and less will be supplied.

Medical service is not a free good, but when treated as such by arbitrary government edicts, its future supply will be undermined and severely reduced both in quality and quantity. Doctors are dedicated but they are not saints or dullards. They, like everyone else, will respond to getting less by offering less. While inertia may slow the process of a shrinking supply of medical care as lower mandated fees and arbitrary edicts are imposed upon doctors, inevitably a decline in medical care and its quality will be the ultimate, unintended result.

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Medical care is a valuable service provided by trained professionals. Often unseen is what is required for doctors to provide their medical skills to their patients. At a minimum, at least a decade of schooling beyond high school is necessary, followed by several more years of specialized training. During that time not only do doctors forego an earned income but they also incur large educational debts along the way. People who have the endurance and ability to achieve the status of a medical doctor do so through great effort by their own free choice. Believing a new supply of medical doctors will suddenly appear out of nothing as a free good to meet the coming explosion of medical care demand is a chimera.

Private physicians have already experienced the bureaucratic edicts that have been inflicted upon them through the ubiquitous third-party payment systems with their falling fees, dictates, and voluminous paperwork. With the imminent threat of more to come from Obamacare, a flood of doctors will react to their worsening professional situation by either reducing their practice of medicine or taking early retirement in utter disgust. This is the unseen and unintended future outcome which many people are failing to comprehend today.

Getting something for nothing by imposing the cost on others may at first appear attractive to some people, but at what price? When both personal ethics and economic law are violated by a process of political plunder which imposes short-sighted partisan edicts on those who will bear the costs, the outcome to the general welfare is always harmful. Tragically, the more we become addicted to such a political process, the more individual liberty with its material well being will be lost along the way. (Is it possible this may be what Obamacare has really been about?)

So, where are we headed? The coming government take-over of medical care is destined to become an era of doctor shortages, rationing, delays for medical care, and an undermining of future medical technology and discoveries. I have little doubt that patients seeking medical care will soon be hearing that old socialist refrain, “It's free, but we ain't got none!”

January 5, 2010