Doctors Still Want to Treat Us Like Children
Dr. Philip Anderson, Dean of the St. Louis University School of Medicine, calls for tuition assistance for students studying to be primary care physicians over at the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. His rationale is that there aren’t enough primary care physicians, and tuition assistance would provide an incentive for young bright minds to move into the field.
I suspect that the supply of doctors is relatively inelastic, and thus tuition assistance woouldn’t have much of an effect on the number of primary care physicians available. The problem is that the supply of doctors is fundamentally limited by occupational licensing laws. It’s no secret that it costs an enormous amount of both time and money in order to become a doctor in the United States. As a result, there are fewer doctors than there would be otherwise, and those who do become doctors enjoy much higher wages. In the end, this hurts the average family who has to pay more for medical services particularly low-income families who are already strapped for cash.
The standard argument for requiring doctors to be licensed is that this protects the public from fly-by-night operations that only endanger the public’s health. There may be some merit to this argument when it comes to invasive surgery. When it comes to things like treating a cold or giving birth, however, the argument loses much of its force. You simply don’t need an M.D. to effectively do many of the things doctors do. What this argument ignores, though, is that fully functioning adults are capable of making their own decisions. It may be a useful service to warn the public about the dangers of not using a doctor for any given medical need, but requiring the public to use a doctor only limits the options available.
Speaking of midwifery, as Justin Hauke notes, the Missouri Supreme Court has just upheld a law to legalize the practice. Midwifery provides a textbook example of how occupational licensing hurts both the consumer and the competition. The Post-Dispatch reports:
Doctors’ groups have fought efforts to loosen the regulations, arguing that midwives lack training and that pregnancies can quickly become dangerous.
Even if this is correct and it probably isn’t this issue is fundamentally a matter of personal choice. We don’t allow the government to treat us like children when we decide what to wear in the morning; why shouldn’t we insist on autonomy when it comes to health care?