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Economics and ethics in public health?



Economics and ethics in public health?



Gesundheitswesen ) 61(1): 1-7



The topic suggests a conflict between ethics and economy in medical care. It is often argued that today's welfare state in affluent societies with their social insurance systems makes it easier for the doctor to translate ethical demands into reality without being hampered by economic restrictions. Both doctors and patients took advantage of this system of medical care by mingling social guarantees for health with the doctor's income. Hence, medical expenses expanded rapidly, additionally promoted by technical progress in medicine. This entailed a proportionate increase in medical expenses in relation to personal income, especially wage income. Budgets of state authorities were streamlined or deficits became larger. This state of affairs was promoted further by mechanisms of distribution of national income in accordance with the slogan "less state, more market". While national income continued to grow, although at a slower rate, the number of jobless persons grew continually and thus also the social expenses, this was not due, as is usually assumed and pretended, to an economic crisis. Society and economy are facing a crisis of distribution of national income under conditions of technical progress as a job killer, making economic production more productive and efficient. Not taking into account the new challenge of social market economy--the German innovation in market economy creating the economic miracle after World War II--reforms of the system of medical care took place and are still continuing along market principles, particularly the latest German reform law leading to individual contracts between patients and their doctors in respect of cost charging. However, marketing principles promote economy in medicine, but they do not promote medical ethics. Further German guidelines for medical care should take stock of past experiences. There will be more competition in the "growing market of medical care" (private and public) and this will need--as economic experience has shown and economists have affirmed--new organisational devices to ensure better outcomes for the individual patient as a consumer and the doctors as suppliers. More responsibility should be given to the different suppliers of collective security in medical care (private or social systems of insurance). No individual patient as a mere consumer has a genuine chance in handling contracts with doctors carefully who are considered to be "gods in white" according to a popular German saying. These consumers have only a slight chance when arguing in courts of justice for the performance of contracts. Diagnosis and therapy, the system of doctors who treat members of statutory social insurance schemes (National Health general practitioners in the U.K.) and doctors as "free entrepreneurs" in the growing market of medical care should be separated due to the different rules of charging costs and offering medical care. "Classless medical care" does not have a better chance by applying market principles. The same is true for ethics versus economy. Doctors as "free entrepreneurs" must learn that markets will not guarantee reimbursement of costs but react to supply and demand. Hence, regulation of medical care by economic instruments creates better chances even for ethics in medical care against economy.

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