Want to help the poor? Promote a free market in health care. That’s the argument made by John C. Goodman, author of the new book Priceless: Curing the Healthcare Crisis.

Timothy Dalrymple recently talked with Goodman about the best approach for restoring free-market pricing mechanisms into the market for medical care and health insurance:

Aren’t there some people, however, who have little of money and lots of time, and would prefer to wait in order to receive cheaper care?

There are 50 million Americans with foodstamps, who can buy any product you and I buy, and pay the same price. When they get to the checkout counter, they combine their foodstamps with cash and pay the market price — and you never hear it said that poor people can’t get access to supermarkets. They may have to get on a bus and go some blocks away, but food markets don’t refuse people with foodstamps.

Now, fifty million people, mainly the same people, are also on medicaid. And what’s the biggest problem you have there? Finding a doctor who will see you. Because we make it illegal for people on medicaid to add to the government payment rate and pay the market price for care.

There are about 1300 walk-in clinics in this country, and the ones in CVS are called Minute Clinic. As the name implies, they know that your time is valuable as well as your money. They provide very high quality care for a reasonable price. In Dallas, Texas, if you have an ear ache or a sore throat, the charge is about $75. Medicaid will only pay half that. So none of the minute clinics accept Medicaid patients. We make it illegal for the poor person to add to the medicaid rate and pay the market price. So a medicard patient has to go to a hospital or an emergency room and wait hours to get basic primary care. It certainly isn’t delivered in a minute.

If we just allowed low-income people to obtain health care in the same way we allow them to obtain food, we would make health care immediately accessible to millions of people.

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