Posted Wednesday, Aug. 29, 2012, at 2:20 PM
Sarah Kliff writes about one of the easiest ways to address a looming shortage of some categories of doctors—increase the amount of money that Medicare spends on training new doctors.
This ought to be a no-brainer. But I still think the biggest game-changer here is immigration. Foreign doctors earn substantially lower salaries than American doctors, and many foreign countries seem to have a cost advantage in training health care professionals. What we need to do is invest some money in creating a set of objective, transparent standards spelling out what it is a foreigner would have to do to qualify to practice medicine in the United States. That way it would become feasible for people to set up training programs on foreign soil deliberately aimed at preparing people to work in the burgeoning American health care market.
The fact that health care services aren't really tradeable is one of the key reasons why their price has escalated so much compared with other goods and services. It's difficult to imagine these services ever becoming quite as tradeable as things you can pack up in a box, but there's lots of stuff that can be done at the margin to connect the United States to global markets where these things can be obtained at lower prices. Better organization of the international supply chain in medical professionals could do an enormous amount of good in this regard.