Exhibit A. What’s this? Aside from a picture of root beer, it’s the default root beer of choice for our family. For years, this was the goto for special cookouts: July 4, Memorial Day, Labor Day. We bought root beer at other times of the year, usually the generic brand. But on certain special occasions, we went all out and got the above brand. The finest kind.
This is not an indictment on the quality of the brand or anything. It’s still as tasty as ever. But last year, when we went shopping for one of the prime cookouts, we noticed a change. There were only four bottles. There had been, since before my first kiddo was born, six per pack. Suddenly, there were four. And there wasn’t much of a price shift to match.
Without warning, we were getting less for our money. The company had concluded the best way to solve its financial issues was to provide less product while keeping the price the same. Less for more.
I’m no economist, which is why I rarely delve into this territory. I’m reminded of the old Bloom County cartoon strip, where young Binkley is haunted one night by two economists sitting in his bedroom, arguing about the economy. I just know that when it comes to root beer, such a decision is annoying and a little off-putting.
When it comes to healthcare, however, it can be deadly. If the bottom line is all that matters, and a company is willing to cut costs at the bottom rung through slashing services or diminishing quantity or quality, where does that leave me, the consumer?
But my health? My family’s health? At what point would I need to say, “Oh well, they just raised prices/cut quality/cut quantity, I suppose I’ll settle for less quality care’?
That’s my problem with the market as healthcare provider. When was the last time anyone drove up to a gas station and an army of happy, smiling employees descended on your car, cleaning the windows, checking the oil, filling the tank? Anyone recently? Yet I don’t remember gas prices going down as those services dwindled.
The bold boast of the free market, of the whole capitalist gig, seems to be to let the market do it, and we’ll have better employees making more money, and products and services will be at the best quality and quantities ever. Competition will demand it, efficiency will provide it.
As I look around, however, I can’t help but wonder if, somehow, we’ve turned a corner. Somehow, corporations have figured that, while at first you might want to dangle some high quality for low cost, eventually the quality or quantity can be cut just the same. Whenever I visit someone who lives in an old house, and compare it to houses built today, I think on that.
Again, I’m no economist, and my amateur observations are what they are. Nor am I insisting that you can’t love Jesus if you do or don’t think thus about a free market solution vs. other solutions to healthcare. It’s just that, on my own level, in my own simple thinking, when it seems that the default approach today is to first cut quantity or even quality, while also cutting employees and benefits, I’m not sure that’s what I want calling the shots if I’m in a hospital, hooked up to who knows what in order to keep me alive.