Newsflash: Laws of Economics Still Functioning!

Hat tip to Henry Stern at InsureBlog for this story out of Tennessee that illustrates the chronic problem of ignorance of basic economics.  The Tennessean‘s Rachel Stults:

Southern Hills Medical Center [has decided] to discontinue labor and delivery services – a move they say will be particularly hard-felt in a community known for its high population of immigrants and patients who are uninsured or without prenatal care.

So why did the hospital decide to close down its maternity ward?

Thomas Ozburn, the hospital’s chief executive officer, said in a statement issued Monday. “Southern Hills suspended obstetric services following the resignation of our largest group of obstetricians.”

The hospital is getting a lot of bad PR about this:

“We’re concerned about somebody who has not received prenatal care, who doesn’t speak English but sees a hospital sign and goes there to have a child and those services aren’t available to them, so the patient’s valuable time is lost,” [said] Kathy McGregor, a registered nurse and an organizer for the National Nurses Organizing Committee.

At the risk of sounding a bit hard-hearted, perhaps some of the patient’s valuable time could have been invested in foregoing having children until  they are socially and financially capable of getting adequate prenatal care.  Of course, this sort of reasoning does not persuade people who don’t understand basic economics:

In the rain, members of the National Nurses Organizing Committee held signs that read “Our Lives Are Worth More Than Your Profits” and “¿Porque HCA nos abandonó?” – why did HCA abandon us?

The allegedly heartless hospital administration and obstetricians could with equal justification say, “Our Lives Are Worth More Than Your Profits” referring, respectively, to their own livelihoods and the “profits” of the patients for whom they invest time, effort, skill, and medicolegal risk; the profit in this context being getting thousands of dollars in high tech and high quality medical care without the intention or ability to pay for it.  Says InsureBlog’s Stern:

The problem, of course, is that someone has to pay, and that “someone” is often the greater community, because the providers are forced out of business. [emphasis in the original]

Of course, the critics of the hospital administration and obstetricians could choose to go to medical school, complete an OB/Gyn residency, and then manage pregnancies, deliver babies, and handle  difficult deliveries and postpartum complications for free.  They’d also have to purchase land, construct a facility, equip said facility with the technology and personnel required for modern maternity care, keep the utilities on, protect against the tremendous medicolegal risks associated with obstetrics…et cetera.

It’s obvious why the protesters bother to protest.  Pointing fingers and chanting slogans is easy.  Actually doing what you expect other people to do for free is extraordinarily difficult.  And time-consuming.  And expensive!

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