House Speaker Jose Oliva made his belief clear, again. He argues that the free market is the best solution for health care in Florida.

That should concern just about anyone who ever was sick, or is sick, or might get sick.

“The greater the government involvement in something,” Oliva said Wednesday, “the less that there’s true free market. The less there’s competition, the higher that price will go up.”

That’s a classic talking point, but it oversimplifies the issue.

Lawmakers like Oliva talk all the time about the cost of health care. OK, the cost is an issue. However, I’ll bet they wouldn’t be quite so concerned about that if they needed critical treatment.

And, of course, I guess it depends on one’s definition of “free market.” I could foresee loosened requirements for emergency treatment and long-term care. That’s a slope fraught with peril for potentially millions of low- and middle-income Floridians.

I also think the free market works both ways. Some say it’s a panacea for consumers looking for the best deal. However, it also could allow providers to be picky and maximize profitability.

What about patients with pre-existing conditions? Would a free-market system let doctors and hospitals to deny treatment? Would the indigent be sent to walk-in clinics operating out of storefronts?

Oliva had advocated for relaxed regulations, which makes a good sound bite. It also could lead to dangerous shortcuts in the name of cost-efficiency.

Would a “free market” consider health care a basic human right? Plenty of people who share Oliva’s enthusiasm for a free-market system don’t believe it is. Most of those folks probably have good insurance, though.

But hey, it’s what the market will bear, right?

In an emergency, no one is doing price comparisons. If a patient has a life-threatening diagnosis, they want a treatment that gives the best chance to live. But what if that is at a facility that decides it’s not cost-effective to offer treatment?

Don’t say it can’t happen in a freewheeling marketplace.

U.S. Census data showed Florida ranks fifth-highest in the nation for uninsured residents. How would they be helped in such a system? The state’s population is rapidly growing, too. I’m willing to bet a decent percentage of newcomers won’t have insurance. What then?

Oliva has pushed for some interesting things. He argues that hospitals should be required to list their charges for medical procedures. His proposals could allow for the expansion of hospitals to underserved areas. That kind of reform in the system would be a good thing.

Getting critical medical treatment isn’t like buying a car, though. A medical system should be strictly regulated because the alternative is terrifying.

Many hospitals are part of national conglomerates already. Relaxing laws could lead to ruthless cost-cutting and compromised treatment.

We have seen that in other industries when the “free market” takes over.

The odds are good it would happen in health care, too.

A free market is fine for some things, but health care isn’t one of them.

Joe Henderson has had a 45-year career in newspapers, including the last nearly

42 years at The Tampa Tribune, where he covered sports, politics and city government. The column moved on website^p


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