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Econ 101

Is health care a “private good” or a “public good” during a pandemic?

David Brancaccio and Daniel Shin Mar 13, 2020
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A sign directing visitors to the fever clinic is pictured at the entrance to the Gold Coast University Hospital in Australia. Patrick Hamilton/AFP via Getty Images
Econ 101

Is health care a “private good” or a “public good” during a pandemic?

David Brancaccio and Daniel Shin Mar 13, 2020
A sign directing visitors to the fever clinic is pictured at the entrance to the Gold Coast University Hospital in Australia. Patrick Hamilton/AFP via Getty Images
HTML EMBED:
COPY

This is part of our “Econ Extra Credit” project, where we read an introductory economics textbook provided by the nonprofit Core Econ together with our listeners.


Most health insurance plans and services in the United States can be considered “private goods,” something that a person has to themselves and is not available to another individual.

But the outbreak of COVID-19 has prompted many experts to point out that health insurance and preventative care are really “public goods,” resources that everyone uses and shares for everyone else’s benefit.

“Coronavirus is definitely a reminder that health care is, in fact, a public good,” said Dan Mendelson, founder of healthcare advisory consultancy Avalere Health. “We all have a vested interest in making sure that everybody around us is seeking appropriate medical care at the right time.”

For Mendelson, the key issue is making sure sick people seek early and appropriate care at the right time.

“We have a lot of places, people who are in emergency rooms, taking up space in emergency rooms when if they had sought treatment earlier, their conditions could be managed a lot less expensively, and in a way that that had a better outcome for not only the patient but people around them,” Mendelson said.

Click the audio player above to hear the full interview.

COVID-19 Economy FAQs

What’s the outlook for vaccine supply?

Chief executives of America’s COVID-19 vaccine makers promised in congressional testimony to deliver the doses promised to the U.S. government by summer. The projections of confidence come after months of supply chain challenges and companies falling short of year-end projections for 2020. What changed? In part, drugmakers that normally compete are now actually helping one another. This has helped solve several supply chain issues, but not all of them.

How has the pandemic changed scientific research?

Over the past year, while some scientists turned their attention to COVID-19 and creating vaccines to fight it, most others had to pause their research — and re-imagine how to do it. Social distancing, limited lab capacity — “It’s less fun, I have to say. Like, for me the big part of the science is discussing the science with other people, getting excited about projects,” said Isabella Rauch, an immunologist at Oregon Health & Science University in Portland. Funding is also a big question for many.

What happened to all of the hazard pay essential workers were getting at the beginning of the pandemic?

Almost a year ago, when the pandemic began, essential workers were hailed as heroes. Back then, many companies gave hazard pay, an extra $2 or so per hour, for coming in to work. That quietly went away for most of them last summer. Without federal action, it’s mostly been up to local governments to create programs and mandates. They’ve helped compensate front-line workers, but they haven’t been perfect. “The solutions are small. They’re piecemeal,” said Molly Kinder at the Brookings Institution’s Metropolitan Policy Program. “You’re seeing these innovative pop-ups because we have failed overall to do something systematically.”

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