Paul Jacob

The trouble with making government the solution for our medical system’s failures is that government is without a doubt the chief cause of those failures.

But I guess “government” isn’t a good enough name for the cause. Some government, after all, is good for us. So, how to name the problem?

Several months ago Greg Blankenship, founder and president of the Illinois Policy Institute, gave us a good name for one governmental cause of health care failure. In a fascinating column, Blankenship looked at the regulations that beset planning for medical care in his state, Illinois, and gave it a name: Protectionism.

What’s happening in Illinois isn’t hard to understand. It’s the same old protectionist racket. A hospital in Joliet hasn’t been allowed to add beds to its mental health and OB-GYN clinics for years now. Nearby hospitals in Aurora, Joliet, Bolingbrook and Morris oppose the project.

So people in Joliet suffer. Not enough options. Not enough health care.

And so many no doubt blame insufficiencies on doctors, or nurses’ unions, or markets in general.

Yet the real blame rests solely on the state of Illinois and its Health Facilities Planning Board. A sad case, yes; a sick system.

The Simplicity of the Idiocy
As Blankenship makes clear, protectionism isn’t just for busybody politicians in nation-states. State governments get in on the act, too.

And, like nationwide protectionism, special-interest influences come to play as a matter of course, with one or two businesses reaping most of the rewards. Blankenship likened the practice to a (fictional) fast food restaurant regulatory board getting captured by McDonald’s. Suddenly, Burger King outlets can’t get permission to expand.

Economists have been writing on this for 50 years or more. Regulatory capture, it’s called . . . but here applied to the business of medicine.

And medicine is a business. Calling it a “service” and pretending it’s like government doesn’t make it any less a business. It only helps run the business into the ground.

Further, medicine may be a “basic service,” yes — but remember: food is a basic product. And the farming, distribution, and marketing of our food supply works best with minimal government involvement. (Indeed, our biggest food-related problems are largely caused by government involvement.) And there’s little inherent in the services of medicine to require “sharing the burden” through government.

Paul Jacob

Paul Jacob is President of Citizens in Charge Foundation and Citizens in Charge. His daily Common Sense commentary appears on the Web and via e-mail.