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Shawn Needham: How Consumers and Entrepreneurs Co-navigate Value Uncertainty in Healthcare

Tags The EntrepreneurEntrepreneurship

03/30/2021Hunter Hastings

Austrian economics provides new insights into value: what it is, how it is created, and who creates it. The insights are summed up by Professors Per Bylund and Mark Packard in our E4B podcast episode #108 (see Mises.org/E4B_108). One of the most vivid images they paint is the picture of entrepreneurship as “the two-sided navigation of radical value uncertainty, both by producers and consumers, in that never-ending quest towards higher value states”.

The market for healthcare provides us with a pertinent example of co-navigation of radical value uncertainty. For consumers, there is no certainty available — they can’t know which doctors or providers will give them the best experience, they don’t know the right means to choose to attain their end (health), and they can’t use the usual market price signals in the search for value since the price of healthcare is not visible to them. The don’t purchase the product, they purchase insurance, a different financial product than the healthcare experience they really need.

Thus, the healthcare market is a natural medium for the co-navigation of value uncertainty that Professors Bylund and Packard described. In E4B podcast episode #111, Shawn Needham, a healthcare entrepreneur dedicated to helping the consumer in their navigation task, lays out 6 principles for entrepreneurs.

Key Takeaways & Actionable Insights

1. Help consumers to be proactive about their own health.

The healthcare system wants consumers who are sick. Chronic sickness is their most profitable line. A good way to help consumers is via what Shawn calls Pro-Health: encouraging the consumer mindset and commitment to actively make good health and lifestyle choices in diet, exercise, quality sleep and stress reduction. Entrepreneurs can share valuable knowledge and tools to help good decision-making, and to facilitate health creation by consumers.

2. Enable consumer sovereignty via cash, pay-out-of-pocket options.

It’s hard to discern the operation of consumer sovereignty in healthcare systems. End-users can become locked-in to a limited set of choices. Entrepreneurs can help by developing more choices, so that expressed consumer dissatisfactions can be actualized as new options.

Examples that are already in motion include Direct Primary Care (DPC), an arrangement whereby doctors charge a set monthly fee for access to primary care, and consumers pay cash in return for an improved experience, including more time with the doctor, easier scheduling and lower cost prescriptions.

DPC doctors are healthcare entrepreneurs who are enabling consumer sovereignty, having alertly discerned the signals of consumer dissatisfaction.

3. Entrepreneurial empowerment in employer health financing options.

Employers offer ways for employees to finance traditional healthcare insurance, usually via benefits programs. In episode #109, Professor Desmond Ng described the Austrian-inspired movement among employers to empower their employees to be more creative and entrepreneurial and less centrally-directed: he called the movement Entrepreneurial Empowerment.

Entrepreneurial empowerment can be granted to employees to unleash their creativity in searching for financing options for their healthcare. The use of Health Savings Plans provides consumers with an alternative approach to meeting healthcare expenses through dedicated savings. There may be other ways to re-direct the funds devoted to funding healthcare insurance through centrally-directed employer programs, such as freeing employees to opt out of company-paid insurance premiums, and to take the same amount as a deposit into a 401K, leaving the employee with a freer choice in healthcare financing.

4. When the consumer pays the bill, the benefits of free markets can emerge.

Another pay-out-of-pocket option development is Cash Fee For Service, which is a straightforward payment whenever a specific service is required. We’ve highlighted Surgery Center Of Oklahoma as a pioneering example.

When the consumer pays the bill, lower prices tend to result because of competitive free market processes, and the quality of care tends to increase for the same reasons. In his book, Shawn Needham cites cosmetic surgery and lasik eye surgery as two examples of free market forces at work to generate higher quality and lower costs.

5. Entrepreneurial initiative combined with consumer search for betterment can create new solutions.

Shawn identifies medical cost sharing programs as an innovation emerging from the consumer-entrepreneur co-navigation of value uncertainty in healthcare. In medical cost sharing, a voluntary community pools funds so that any unexpected major medical cost can be shared across the community. The firm that co-ordinates the community typically also offers services such as bill negotiation, concierge medical services, health coaching, and discounts on health-promoting resources. There’s a greater degree of consumer sovereignty than is typical in healthcare arrangements, such as a freer choice of which doctors and labs to use. Similarly, doctors who participate in these programs are freer to set their own rates and to compete for patient trust in lasting relationships.

The healthcare market is a process.

The healthcare market may appear to be an inflexible structure, built over many years to impede organizational innovation. But viewed in an Austrian way, as a process governed by consumer sovereignty and responsive entrepreneurial creativity, it is possible to discern emerging trends in favor of greater consumer choice, market flexibility, and the inevitable role of the price mechanism to disperse blockages and lower barriers to better consumer experiences.

Additional Resources

 “Navigating Healthcare Uncertainty” (PDF): Mises.org/E4B_111_PDF

Sickened: How The Government Ruined Healthcare And How To Fix It by Shawn Needham: Mises.org/E4B_111_Book 

Check out one example of medical cost sharing: Mises.org/E4B_111_Example

Read about Direct Primary Care: Mises.org/E4B_111_DPCare

Note: The views expressed on Mises.org are not necessarily those of the Mises Institute.
Author:

Hunter Hastings

Hunter Hastings is a member of the Mises Institute, Business Consultant, and co-chair of the Rescue California Educational Foundation. He is also host of the Economics for Entrepreneurs podcast. You can find Hunter’s writings on entrepreneurship at hunterhastings.com.

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