Happy Mortal

This life, well-lived.

Is Healthcare a Commodity?

Without getting into an overly complicated, Marxist debate about the nature of a commodity, the answer to this question is relatively simple: yes/no. We spend money on healthcare; businesses profit from our spending. So, yes, healthcare is a commodity. On the other hand, it’s next to impossible to affix a value to extending someone’s life, relieving their pain, helping them function. At the center of the debate, there exists a disconnect between what healthcare costs (equipment, expertise, drugs, facilities) and what it’s worth. So, no, healthcare is not a pure commodity.

According to the NCHC, in 2007, health care spending in the United States reached $2.3 trillion. That’s $7,600 per person. We spend roughly 16 percent of our GDP on healthcare. Other notables, Swizterland, Germany, and Canada spend 10 percent or less, and somehow we manage to leave almost 47 million Americans uninsured. This is what healthcare looks like when it is treated inappropriately as a true commodity. Inflated costs, incredible waste, and the best possible doctors/procedures for the privileged few that can afford it.

The neo-capitalist would call this a success. “We have the best doctors and the best equipment in the world,” they would say. This kind of sentiment has been the measure of healthcare in recent memory. And it is a fundamental failure as it never takes into account accessibility or affordability of healthcare as a service. It is a broken system. Easy to criticize, I know, but I’m about to offer a solution.

It hinges on analyzing two aspects of the nature of healthcare: human need/right and commoditization.

First, healthcare is a basic human need, but can we call it a right? And second, to what extent is healthcare a commodity?

The simple answer is that healthcare is a right to the extent that we can afford it, and it’s a commodity to extent that we can’t. This means treating healthcare as such. We begin by setting up a tiered system for healthcare. The first tier is preventative care, simple procedures, general doctors vists, etc. In this scheme the government subsidizes the entire first tier. Not only does this limit what private providers have to cover, it ensures access to preventative medicine for every American reducing the overall strain on the system. Second and third tier (expensive, elective, and experimental procedures) can then be parsed out among private insurance companies dramatically reducing insurance premiums.

What remains is a not-insignificant-debate over what fits into the tiers and how to rebuild the existing infrastructure to accommodate the expansion of preventative care. By tiering our healthcare system we can begin to treat the citizens of the United States ethically and responsibly. It’s the first step of a long journey to realize the potential of the American dream.


  1. Health care is, indeed, a commodity, in the same way that food, water, shelter, and transportation are commodities: they are products which meet needs which may be satisfied in a spectrum of ways by a variety of providers and choices. If free markets are allowed to act unencumbered by inappropriate government interference, health care quality and choice will increase and costs will decrease. Unfortunately, inappropriate government interference, tax preferences, and overregulation have disrupted the market.

    We do not consider food or water “rights,” so why should health care be different? We have a right to pursue them in that government may not deny them to us, but as an example we can choose from a mind-boggling array of water varieties, including government-controlled tap water, dozens of bottled varieties, or even rain water. Any common grocery store has dozens of types of bread alone, all reasonably priced to be appealing to consumers in the competitive bread market. I can buy cheap white bread or more expensive designer bread, depending on my desires and ability to pay. And I don’t have to buy bread if I don’t want it.

    The phone book and internet are loaded with insurance and health care alternatives. Placing the responsibility for choice and payment on the shoulders of the consumers also gives them the power and liberty to choose their desired health care quality, frequency, and risk. That power to choose will not only increase individual power over their lives, it will increase provider accountability and quality, decrease prices, and retain the profit motive for companies and individuals who deliver the innovative products and services which make America the health care intellectual leader of the world.

    We don’t yet have employer-provided bread with elaborate tax codes nudging us toward bread brands favored by those making or influencing the tax codes. We don’t need a government-only bread or water system to dictate which choices to make, although I’m sure some statists would prefer it. This highlights the true aim of health care reformers: an eventual governmental takeover of 25% of our economy, increased dependency on government, and increased power for those in charge.

    We need less governmental control over health care, not more. If we give others the responsibility, we also give them our rights. Individuals must wrest control and responsibility for their health care from those who seek to control them in the name of security, compassion, fairness, or other smokescreens.

  2. Madison Hamilton said “if we give other the responsibility, we also give them our rights.”

    You say this as though there were some fictional country we could live in where the social matrix that forms us, sustains us, and enframes us is something that we really don’t need. Human beings are social creatures. Every aspect of culture is by definition social. The lie of neo-conservative capitalism is that we can draw on the social for support, but ignore our responsibility to it once we have drained enough power from the system to be self sufficient. There is no such thing as self sufficient. When people organize they give up the illusion of self sufficiency for mutual benefit. In tribal culture this can be as simple as having someone to watch the babies while other people collect food. In our own culture the interplay between individual rights and corporate responsibility becomes far more complex. Follow this link for a more in depth blog about emergent socialism.

    When you suggest that the “true aim of health care reformers” is “an eventual governmental takeover of 25% of our economy, increased dependency on government, and increased power for those in charge” you betray a hostile ignorance toward the role of governemnt. I might respond that the entire purpose of a standing army, and government controlled spending on the military suggests that the true purpose of the United States is to take over the world.

    Bush and Cheney tried to convince the American public that it was necessary to give up freedom for security. This is such a ridiculous Orwellian power play that it hardly bears mention, except that it has roots in a real truth about goverment. It is true that when people organize for the common good, they give up some rights of the individual and take on responsibilities to the whole. For instance, if a government organizes around a river no one person retains the right to the river. That doesn’t mean that the citizens within that governemnt aren’t free, it simply means that the mutual benefit of organization outweighs the pleasure of singular ownership in respect to the river.

    All that to say, we have the infrastructure, the money, and the creative capacity to shoulder the true responsibility of basic health care to all Americans. This has nothing to do with government control, and everything to do corporate (corporate, not in the sense of corporation) responsibility. Insofar as health care is a right, Americans deserve it.

  3. Pingback: Is Healthcare a Commodity pt. 2 | Happy Mortal

  4. Pingback: Public Opt-Out | Happy Mortal