[July 29, 2007 @ 7:59 am] David Catron

The National Review of Medicine highlights the economic illiteracy that permeates Canada’s health care bureaucracy. Last year, the provincial government of New Brunswick decided that physicians with full practices needed an incentive to take on new patients. However, like all bureaucrats trying to outsmart the market, they implemented a program whose unintended consequences outweighed any benefit the incentives may have provided.

[The program] was intended to improve access to family doctors in the province but it also appears to be making it more difficult to find doctors to take over practices from retiring physicians. That’s because the incentive doesn’t apply in these cases.

That’s right. The bureaucrats decided to apply the incentives selectively, somehow concluding that some physicians would respond to incentives while others would not. Here’s how this ill-considered policy is manifesting itself:

Dr Eric Christiansen, 63, of Rothesay, last month hung up his stethoscope. Despite his efforts, the popular MD couldn’t find a doctor to take over his practice, leaving the vast majority of his 2,500 patients without a family physician, in a province in the throes of a physician shortage crisis.

In other words, by selectively applying the incentive, the provincial government made the “orphan patient” situation worse. How could they be so clueless? Brian Ferguson, PhD, of the Atlantic Institute for Market Studies, offers this:

Much confusion and bad policy follows from the inability of many policy analysts to handle the techniques of an elementary economics course.

Ferguson goes on to point out what should be blindingly obvious to anyone possessing a modicum of economic literacy:

Doctors’ decision-making is affected by financial incentives to a greater extent than many think … physicians respond to market forces, including cash bonuses, the same as any other professionals.

My goodness. Who knew? Apparently not the commissars of New Brunswick.

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