Bill Keller used his NYT column today outline a series of myths about President Obama’s health care plan. At one point he tells readers:”I’m a pretty devout capitalist, and I see that in some cases individual responsibility helps contain wasteful spending on health care. If you have to share the cost of that extra M.R.I. or elective surgery, you’ll think hard about whether you really need it.”
The irony here is that under the current system it is government intervention that makes “the cost of that extra M.R.I.” expensive. The direct cost of an M.R.I., the electricity, the time of technicians to run the machine and the time of a doctor to read the results are relatively low. The machine itself however is expensive, because of government granted patent monopolies.
If M.R.I.s were sold in a free market, where anyone could copy the technology and sell an M.R.I. device for whatever the market would bear, then the cost of M.R.I. tests would not be a major issue.
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