Driving Down Health Care Costs

Steve BucksteinQuickPoint!

Last week’s Oregon Health Summit in Salem featured experts talking with legislators, providers and others about how to reform our ailing health care system. One pair of speakers really highlighted the contrast between competing approaches.

On one side, a Wal-Mart executive told the audience that the nation’s largest retailer was pioneering programs that are driving down health care costs and driving up satisfaction for its customers and employees. On the customer side, since introducing $4 generic prescription drugs in September 2006, Americans have saved more than $600 million. Oregonians alone have garnered $7 million in drug savings.

Customers are also benefiting from so-called Convenient Clinics in a growing number of Wal-Mart stores, where nurse practitioners offer routine procedures like immunizations and tests for less money than going to your own doctor’s office. No appointments needed, prices are posted on the wall, wait times are generally short, and your prescriptions can be filled right there.

Together, $4 prescriptions and Convenient Clinics are part of a revolution in health care driven by profit-seeking corporations.

The opposing approach was offered by the leader of Oregon’s largest public employee union, SEIU. Although on the national level Wal-Mart and SEIU are partners in the Better Health Care Together coalition, SEIU’s Oregon leader thinks we can bring down health care prices by capping profits and limiting advertising and marketing.

Of course, the 80 percent of U.S. households who shop at Wal-Mart already see how the profit motive can lower their health care costs. Hopefully others, like union leaders, will see that, too.

Steve Buckstein is founder, Senior Policy Analyst and Director of the Oregon Economic Opportunity Project at Cascade Policy Institute, Oregon’s free market think tank.

© 2008, Cascade Policy Institute. All rights reserved. Permission to reprint in whole or in part is hereby granted, provided the author and Cascade Policy Institute are cited. Contact Cascade at (503) 242-0900 to arrange print or broadcast interviews on this topic. For more topics visit the QuickPoint! archive.

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