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The problem with eliminating profit in health care

Casey Mulligan explains at National Review Online why some left-wing health care ideas would have serious negative consequences.

For the past five years or so, Democrats led by Senator Bernie Sanders and “the Squad” in Congress have made a strong push to eliminate the profit motive from the health-care sector, which constitutes about a sixth of our entire economy. As expressed in bills such as the Medicare for All Act of 2019, which had the support of more than half of Democrats in the House and Senate, “there is a moral imperative to correct the massive deficiencies in our current health system and to eliminate profit from the provision of health care.”

Economic historian Deirdre McCloskey disagrees. In her book, Bourgeois Equality, she writes, “The expropriation of profits would kill progress entirely. It has done so . . . historically.” The COVID-19 pandemic has added to that historical record.

Then–President Trump warned the public of the threat that the Medicare for All agenda posed to the private sector. I was part of the president’s economic team, documenting how the profit motive in health care saves lives, in large part by stimulating medical innovation and a timely delivery of health care to the population.

Indeed, we noted that when profit has been prohibited in agriculture, as it was historically in socialist countries, people were malnourished and starved. Prohibiting profit in health care would leave people suffering and dying from conditions that would have been alleviated or cured by private-sector innovation. …

… Now the United States is exiting a historic pandemic by vaccinating its population with products produced by Pfizer, Moderna, and Johnson & Johnson. Each is a for-profit company. Their cumulative profits from the vaccines, while impressive from a company perspective, may never reach the $34 billion value that the U.S. obtains from reaching the end of the pandemic just one day earlier. While the value of ending a pandemic months earlier reaches into the trillions of dollars, throngs of critics of capitalism will complain that companies are getting a dozen or two billion.

Mitch Kokai / Senior Political Analyst

Mitch Kokai is senior political analyst for the John Locke Foundation. He joined JLF in December 2005 as director of communications. That followed more than four years as chie...