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c635128ff5b1b3eb0b66748b152c155a

c635128ff5b1b3eb0b66748b152c155a

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Published by: reasonorg on Mar 13, 2008
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41
N ovember 2005
POLICY
BRIEF
by Dr. Francois Melese
Project Director: Ted Balaker
PRIVATIZING PUBLIC HOSPITALS:
A WIN-WIN FOR TAXPAYERS AND THE POOR
Reason Foundation

Reason Foundation\u2019s mission is to advance a free society by develop-
ing, applying, and promoting libertarian principles, including indi-
vidual liberty, free markets, and the rule of law. We use journalism and
public policy research to in\ufb02uence the frameworks and actions of poli-
cymakers, journalists, and opinion leaders.

Reason Foundation\u2019s nonpartisan public policy research promotes
choice, competition, and a dynamic market economy as the founda-
tion for human dignity and progress. Reason produces rigorous, peer-
reviewed research and directly engages the policy process, seeking
strategies that emphasize cooperation, \ufb02exibility, local knowledge, and
results. Through practical and innovative approaches to complex prob-
lems, Reason seeks to change the way people think about issues, and
promote policies that allow and encourage individuals and voluntary
institutions to \ufb02ourish.

Reason Foundation is a tax-exempt research and education organiza- tion as de\ufb01ned under IRS code 501(c)(3). Reason Foundation is sup- ported by voluntary contributions from individuals, foundations, and corporations. The views are those of the author, not necessarily those of Reason Foundation or its trustees.

Copyright \u00a9 2005 Reason Foundation. Photos used in this publication
are copyright \u00a9 1996 Photodisc, Inc. All rights reserved.
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ospital expenditures accounted for almost a third of the $1.6 trillion the United States spent on health

care last year. According to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, over the ten-year
period from 1990 to 2000 the average cost of an inpatient stay at a public hospital increased nearly 50
percent, compared to only 20 percent at private for-profit hospitals. By 2001 the $7,400 cost of a stay at a
public hospital was 24 percent greater than at a private for-profit ($5,972). Why are costs rising so rapidly?
In the case of public hospitals, a conflicting mix of social, political, and business objectives results in weak
incentives to control costs. Cost burdens come from inefficient accounting, restrictive government personnel
and procurement regulations, a tangled web of bureaucracy, and a general lack of accountability.

Bureaucracy, red tape, and outdated medical reporting and accounting systems not only inflate costs, but can
also jeopardize lives. By one estimate, shoddy quality control costs Americans $500 billion per year in
avoidable medical costs, or roughly 30 percent of all health care spending. Of course lives lost are more
important than money lost. Medical errors claim anywhere from 44,000 to 98,000 American lives every year,
roughly 15 to 30 times the death toll from the terrorist attacks on September 11, 2001. Two potent antidotes
to medical errors are investing in new diagnostic devices and harnessing the latest advances in information
technology. The inherent inefficiency of publicly run hospitals and their limited access to capital ensures that
most will continue to lag behind the technology curve. Restricted in their ability to raise taxes to pay for new
technology, governments must decide whether they can continue to afford to own and operate a public
hospital.

Many attractive alternatives exist that benefit both taxpayers and the poor. Municipalities throughout the
country and around the world have demonstrated they can serve indigents more efficiently and effectively by
selling public hospital assets and turning to the private sector. In the United States, communities often receive

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