HealthLawProf Blog

Editor: Katharine Van Tassel
Concordia University School of Law

Friday, May 1, 2009

Doctor v. Patient Decisions

Ezra Klein points out an interesting difference between the left and right on the issue of who should be making the decisions on a variety of health care issues:

If you look at the health care policies favored by liberals and the health care policies favored by conservatives, here's the general difference: Conservatives believe the decision-maker in health care is the consumer. Liberals believe it's the doctor. And so conservative policies try to change consumer behavior. Liberal policies try to change doctor behavior.

That's why conservative policies tend to focus on how individuals pay for care: High deductible health care plans, for instance, make consumers spend more out of pocket, and so they're more price sensitive, and in theory, more careful. Single payer health care and other versions of the "global budget" theory change the way providers are compensated (overprescription means underpayments), and so, in theory, change the behavior of doctors. . . . .

This, I think, gets back to the need to change the behavior of doctors rather than consumers. Patients mainly know to ask for what their doctors tells them to ask for. That's a bit less true in the age of WebMD. But their underlying tendency is to want everything done, no matter the cost, no matter the evidence. A conservative would say that that's because they don't feel the cost. If they did, they'd be quicker to demand the evidence. A liberal would say that people don't worry about cost when they're dealing with their daughter's life. They largely offload decision-making to the doctor, and so the key is that the doctor has appropriate incentives and evidence to help them make wise decisions rather than to enable desperation. . . . .

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