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Monday, July 23, 2007

Ah, the benefits of a free market for health care

Now, as I understand it, free markets are supposed to prevent shortages, aren't they. The price goes up enough to induce additional supply while discouraging demand. It works every time -- in theory:

GREENWOOD, Miss. - A national shortage of doctors is hitting poor places the hardest, and efforts to bring in foreign physicians to fill the gap are running into a knot of restrictions from the war on terror and the immigration debate.

Doctors recruited from places such as India, the Philippines and sub-Saharan Africa to work in underserved areas like the Mississippi Delta and the lonesome West already face an arduous and expensive gauntlet of agencies, professional tests and background checks to secure work papers and permanent residency.

Those restrictions have only tightened in the years since 9-11, and now many believe the process will become more difficult after the attempted terrorist bombings in Britain that have been linked to foreign doctors.

"The consensus seems to be that if you have a first name like Mohammed, you can forget it," Dr. Sanjay Chaube, a much-needed internist in Hurricane Katrina-ravaged Bay St. Louis, Miss., and one of more than 40,000 Indian doctors in the U.S. He is working in this country under what is known as a J-1 visa waiver.

The government estimates that more than 35 million Americans live in underserved areas, and it would take 16,000 doctors to immediately fill that need, according to the American Medical Association. And the gap is expected to widen dramatically over the next several years, reaching 24,000 in 2020 by one government estimate. A 2005 study in the journal Health Affairs said it could hit an astonishing 200,000 by then, based on a rising population and an aging work force.

I guess these people who live in rural areas just don't understand free markets. They need to learn that there is a price that would attract a doctor to their area; perhaps at $1,000 per office visit, they could get one. If you can't afford it, that's just tough luck. That's the way free markets work. Just go home and nurse your illness by yourself.

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