Some of the discussion from the last two posts has carried over to Mark Thoma's blog. Krugman responded to Mark as follows:
Aha - I was wondering if anyone would raise that. I was taking it as true to a pretty good approximation that the long-run supply curve for medical services is horizontal. Unless you think that there's permanently limited supply of medical education, or something, why should we think otherwise?So in a comment, I noted:
And I would guess that very few people would read Bush's statement to mean that it's bad if other people have extensive insurance, because it drives up doctors' paychecks.
A commenter on Mark's blog noted that we could allow more immigration of medical personnel, a policy to which I don't object. Chiming in, Brad DeLong posts his views:
Based on Krugman's response (must be nice to have him on speed dial), we're now in the much more comfortable environment in which this is a few economists talking about the magnitude of various key parameters.
One could point out that if he was "wondering whether anyone would raise this point," then he seems to realize that he was going a bit overboard in claiming that "no economic analysis I'm aware of says that when Peter chooses a good health plan, he raises Paul’s premiums."
On the substantive point, one could assert that almost any market has a long-run supply curve that is flat. Exceptions would be made for markets like diamonds--there is a finite quantity available to be mined. At this juncture, it becomes quite relevant how long we think it will be before we are in the long run.
As evidence against this happening any time soon, I don't think the AMA is going to give up its near-monopoly on certifying medical practitioners. Licensed practitioners will be in short supply for a long time even if wholesale medical prices rise. In order to get more services when prices change over this long run, we have to build a lot of buildings--medical schools and hospitals--and fill them with really expensive equipment. I'm guessing that long run will take a while to get here.
I think that makes four of us. I also think that Krugman's larger point about the key market failure being adverse selection rather than moral hazard is right, and I would like to stop having policy makers focus on the tax code to try to improve the health care market. As for constructive solutions, I hope to have more in future posts.
It's not clear to me that Paul Krugman is wrong. It is also not clear to me that Paul Krugman is right. One of the things patients are buying with more expensive health-care plans is the freedom to choose their own doctors, and that gives the doctors they choose some monopoly power in their bargaining over reimbursement rates with the insurance companies.
I don't have a handle on how big this effect might be, however.