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Healthcare is a Unique Market

By Dr. Michael E Brown
Can anyone think of any other market where sellers are required by law and moral precedent to serve those who can not pay?
    The Supreme Court is considering if  Congress can mandate purchasing of health insurance, but nobody seems to be questioning the fact that hospitals are required by law to not turn away patients in urgent need who can not pay.  There is a long moral tradition for this requirement, and federal laws such as EMTALA  mandate certain services from sellers (hospitals) even if patients can not pay.  
    Some question whether such services can really be considered coverage since the harsh reality is that these services generally do nothing to prevent someone from needing hospitalization, and lack of follow up care after discharge means long term outcomes are poor.   However, the costs of such services is not in doubt, and hospitals use these costs to justify shifting billions of dollars to their insured clients.  
    Can similar statements be made about other industries?  Are supermarkets required by law to feed those in need?  Are funeral homes required to bury bodies of those placed on their doorstep?  I can not think of any other industry that has similar obligations.  Due to its moral foundations, healthcare is different. 
Michael E. Brown graduated from New York University School of Medicine, and completed his internship in Scripps Clinic Green Hospital.  For the 15 years, he has been working at Harvard University Health Services where he is now the Chief Information Officer.   In 2007, Michael graduated from the Harvard School of Public Health  with a master 's degree in healthcare management, and he now teaches at the school.  Michael lives in Arlington, MA with his wife and two daughters.

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