Health Policy

Health Policy

Choice, Equality and Cost

David Reisman

This lucid and comprehensive book explores the ways in which the State, the market and the citizen can collaborate to satisfy people’s health care needs. It argues that health care is not a commodity like any other. It asks if its unique properties mean that there is a role for social regulation and political management. Apples and oranges can be left to the buyers and the sellers. Health care may require an input from the consensus, the experts, the insurers, the politicians and the bureaucrats as well. David Reisman makes a fresh contribution to the debate. He argues that the three policy issues that are of primary importance are choice, equality and cost.

Chapter 6: The practitioner

David Reisman

Subjects: politics and public policy, public administration and management, social policy and sociology, health policy and economics


Rawls writes as follows about the doctor who makes an interpersonal comparison of a dish that the diner had never ordered: On birthdays we give things that we know are wanted, or that will please, to express affection; our gifts are chosen in the light of intimate knowledge and shared experiences. But doctors are expected to assess the situation of their patients, and teachers to judge their students, on an entirely different basis … Doctors consider their patients’ medical needs, what is required to restore them to good health and how urgent their treatment is. (Rawls, 1982: 172) On birthdays we go by wants. The metric of goal attainment is the recipient’s personal preference. Surgery, however, depends on need. Need is a structural imperative that cannot be skimped if the function or role is to survive. Need is the precondition for want. Doctors are skilled specialists schooled in need-satisfaction. The consumers are not. It is the duty of the physician to fill the epistemological vacuum. Medical paternalists have asserted that health care is too important to be delegated to the body-holder: ‘Only the doctor knows what good doctoring is’ (Horder, quoted in Johnson, 1977: 74). Liberal individualists are less convinced that the division of labour must inevitably mean delegation and dependence. Even the ill-informed have ideas and perceptions which they can bring to the table. Even the well-informed can slip into waste and beyond that into duplicity. This chapter is about the well-informed.

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