Differing Views on Healthcare from an Economics Perspective

I have heard, seen and read the debate among pundits in regard to healthcare reform south of the border. Cutting through the misinformation, spin, rhetoric and outright bull, there is a somewhat trivial economic explanation to the differing opinions. As usual, some of the easiest explanations are the ones most often overlooked.

This economic perspective is a result of one of the comments I saw on the WiseLaw Blog which talked about the comments of Glenn Beck (who was ranting about a “lottery” that is the Canadian healthcare system). The comment went as follows:

“…I know nothing of Beck but suspect he promotes the “conservative” point of view, which, briefly stated, is that being rich should MEAN something….”

This is serious food for thought. What exactly does it mean to be rich? In obvious language, it implies an ability to consume luxury goods and services available in the market. Conversely, what does it mean to be the opposite of rich (I don’t want to say “poor” because that has a different definition)? It means a general inability to consume luxury goods due to having to spend the majority of income on necessities.

You can see where this is going with regards to healthcare. Framed like this, the question is trivial: is healthcare a necessity or a luxury? Your initial answer will depend on your political preference, but consider the following premises and let’s see where logic takes us:

  • People cannot control when they become ill; and
  • Spending on luxury goods and services is first to get cut in an economic downturn due to less money being available and thus a greater proportion of income being spent on “necessities”.

What is the logical conclusion if we assume that healthcare is a luxury? If a “rich” person becomes ill during a recession when there is less money to spend on luxuries, money would not be spent on treatment.

Politics notwithstanding, I hope my readers can see why this conclusion is silly. Treatment for an illness cannot wait for an economic upswing nor should people’s health be affected by where we stand in the business cycle.

I can therefore conclude that healthcare is not a luxury, but a necessity. This also means that the anonymous reader of WiseLaw is only partially correct: for “conservatives” being “rich” should mean something, but any conservative with an understanding of economics will understand that being the opposite of rich should not spell lack access to healthcare.

*Note*: I am well aware that I used some “economics” terms without proper “economics” definitions. I did this because I didn’t want eyes to glaze over.

Cross-posted at Lawyerling.ca