Recently, there's been a lot of talk about how each candidate will handle healthcare. Mitt Romney's plan is to let the market dictate healthcare costs. This is not a good idea.
1. Unlike cars, timeshares, or even the Adam Smith standby of eggs, people do not buy increasing amounts of healthcare simply because there's a drop in price. When was the last time a hospital offered a sale on casts and splints? Or penicillin? No facility would do it because IT DOESN'T WORK! No one will line up to take advantage of such a discount. People only buy healthcare as needed. The only time affordability becomes an issue is when consumers delay or avoid buying necessary treatments because they can't afford it. These non-consumers then face either a reduced quality of life, or they die.
2. Unlike food, clothing or housing, substituting cheaper forms of healthcare doesn't always work. Can't afford a house? Rent a smaller apartment. It serves the same purpose. Same thing with groceries. If chicken is on sale this week, you'll buy it instead of beef. Or, you'll buy eggs or beans. However, there are few alternatives to open-heart surgery. Even certain medications must be given in their brand-name form, as patients can be sensitive or allergic to an additive in the generic.
3. Market forces dictate that companies produce that which is the most profitable, not always the most necessary. This explains why there are constantly new medications for acid-reflux disease, while cancer (less common but far more deadly) is still being treated with the same radiation and chemotherapy which have been used for decades despite their horrific and well-documented side effects.
4. Any market that exists outside of an economics textbook has a fair amount of collusion. This can take many forms when it comes to healthcare, such as all health insurance companies fixing premiums while denying care for pre-existing conditions, to pharmaceutical companies paying their competitors to keep generic versions of newly off-patent medications off the market. It's reprehensible, but it's all legal.
For a long time, we've let the market dictate healthcare, and the results are a mess. It's time to investigate alternatives.