Opinion: COVID-19 shows public and private health care complement each other

This Article Originally Appears in The Detroit News

We hear increasing calls for greater government involvement in health care as the solution to future pandemics and health care problems in general. Ironically, the pandemic illustrates exactly the opposite. 

The American health care system functions with maximum effectiveness when the state provides the infrastructure and private companies supply innovation and health care expertise.

We need a responsive private health care sector and a limited but essential government presence. This is fully consistent with the U.S. Constitution which strictly circumscribes the powers of the federal government, and consistent with our new experience of fighting COVID-19.

In contrast to the failures of government, we have seen immense progress from the private sector in fighting COVID-19, Vacca writes.

In contrast to the failures of government, we have seen immense progress from the private sector in fighting COVID-19, Vacca writes. 

Excessive federal overreach is wrong in theory and is practically problematic. Federal programs like Medicare present well-known examples of mismanagement and inefficiency. The federal government’s lack of Constitutional power to regulate health care combined with the inefficiencies of bureaucracy make the prospect of Medicare for All seem like a bad dream, not a serious public policy proposal. 

Even on the state level, too much regulation harms the health care response to a pandemic. For example, tort laws impede manufacturers from creating medical equipment more efficiently, which is essential in a pandemic.  

The proper role of the public sector is secondary to the private sector. It should be limited to setting equitable rules and legal parameters ensuring that health care is serving the people. We need the federal government to insist upon transparency in medical billing, ethically obtained vaccines, respect for appropriate patient autonomy and familial rights. 

It also should prevent monopolies which stifle innovation and stop discrimination in obtaining health care services. These are appropriate government health care functions. The licensing of health care facilities and regulations concerning hospital admitting privileges occur at the state level. The federal and state governments set the boundaries within which the private sector innovates, develops, and responds to health care needs.

In contrast to the failures of government, we have seen immense progress from the private sector in fighting COVID-19. From private companies competing to develop a vaccine to private clinics customizing their response to COVID-19, innovation and progress are easier in the nimble private sector.

It also provides better health outcomes thanks to a current loosening of government regulations. During the pandemic, health care access has increased by eliminating restrictions on telemedicine and allowing telemedicine providers to practice across state lines

States that have loosened restrictions on scope-of-practice laws have enabled private doctors to focus on those in most need, while allowing other professionals to use their training to treat less urgent situations. In short, deregulation is improving our national response to COVID-19 by creating space for the private sector to do what it does best: respond to pressing situations.  

Congress and state Legislatures should seriously consider permanently maintaining this deregulation and allow the private sector to embrace its primary role as the driver of our system.

As virtue lies between the extremes, so good policy lies between excessive and insufficient government involvement. This is not merely the case because of efficiency, but because the appropriate care of the human person is multi-faceted and best addressed by those who are close to the patient, such as family, private associations, local advocacy groups, community associations, etc. 

Freedom requires private sector action that is not subject to government intrusion. If we return to a proper understanding of public and private sectors, we can reestablish a health care system that fulfills its essential purpose: caring for every human person’s soul, mind, and body.

Public and private sectors are adjusting to a new health care normal. Fortunately, there is no need for antagonism. When the U.S. health care system functions at its best, there is a complementarity and partnership between public and private institutions.  

Michael Vacca is the Director of Ministry Bioethics and Membership Experience for Christ Medicus Foundation CURO