Seeing is believing (in the free market)

by on November 23, 2004 at 7:30 am in Economics, Medicine | Permalink

Everywhere we look it seems that health care is more expensive: prescription drug prices are increasing, costs to visit the doctor are up, the price of health insurance is rising.  But look closer, even closer, closer still.  Don’t see it yet?  Perhaps you should have your eyes corrected at a Lasik vision center.

Laser eye surgery has the highest patient satisfaction ratings of any surgery, it has been performed more than 3 million times in the past decade, it is new, it is high-tech, it has gotten better over time and… laser eye surgery has fallen in price.  In 1998 the average price of laser eye surgery was about $2200 per eye.  Today the average price is $1350, that’s a decline of 38 percent in nominal terms and slightly more than that after taking into account inflation.

Why the price decline in this market and not others?  Could it have something to do with the fact that laser eye surgery is not covered by insurance, not covered by Medicaid or Medicare, and not heavily regulated?  Laser eye surgery is one of the few health procedures sold in a free market with price advertising, competition and consumer driven purchases.  I’m seeing things more clearly already.

Thanks to Jonathan Van Loo for research assistance on this post.

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