July 8, 2015

Beware of competition in healthcare

Competition among Health Care Providers – Investigating Policy Options in the European Union

Let's imagine an official in European Commission. They are in favour of more competition in health care and asks an expert committee to assess the issue. This is the concrete answer in selected statements from the report:
First, and foremost, introducing or increasing competition in the provision of health care services is a delicate policy exercise. The conditions for success and risks for failure need to be carefully assessed. In the right context, introducing competition may help to meet some health system objectives, although it is unlikely to contribute simultaneously and positively to all.

Neither economic theory nor empirical evidence support the conclusion that competition should be promoted in all health services

Neither competition nor strict reliance on government regulation will solve all health system problems. Attempts to avoid or correct market failure can result in government failure and vice versa.

Provider competition can contribute to improving value in health service delivery, but details about where, when and how to introduce competition are critical. Competition in health care provision will not solve all health system problems and may have adverse effects.

Competition is unlikely to achieve improvement in all aspect of health system performance at the same time. It will not solve all the trade-offs policy makers face between different, sometimes conflicting, health system objectives.

Competition can at the same time increase the number of services provided and billed, creating uncertainty in relation to overall health care costs. That is, the introduction of competition may well result in increased costs and add to fiscal pressures. Increased costs may, or may not, be justified by additional health benefits to the population (or some parts of the population).

As competition is an instrument, sound policy evaluation studies are needed to assess and judge its effects. Such empirical studies are currently rare and even absent in some countries.

The introduction of competition has uncertain effects on equity of access to health care, as it is conditional on the effects above and on the heterogeneity of patients. Empirical work has found that the introduction of competition among hospitals, in the UK, produced little or no result in equity terms. This limited evidence does not allow for general presumptions about the effects of competition on equity of access to health care.
Now it is crystal clear. The official has had a precise answer that it is exactly the opposite they were expecting. I've said the same in this blog several times. Take care.