The NYT has an article today on the enormous savings available to people who had major surgeries performed in Europe rather than the United States. The piece reports that the cost of hip replacement or knee replacement surgery in the United States are more than five times higher than they are in comparable quality facilities in Europe. (The gap would be even larger with facilities in Thailand and India.)
This shows the enormous potential gains from increased medical trade. In effect, our hospitals, doctors, and medical equipment makers benefit from tariffs on the order of 500 percent or more. If the Obama administration really is interesting in promoting growth through trade it would be difficult to imagine a sector with larger potential gains than trade in medical care.
The agreements would focus on setting clear liability rules, accreditation systems, and removing obstacles for insurers and government programs that prevent them taking advantage of lower cost medical services in other countries.
If the trade deals do not include major openings on medical trade then it would be a clear example of why these deals are in fact about selective protectionism rather than free trade. Past trade deals have been quite explicitly focused on putting U.S. manufacturing workers in direct competition with the low paid manufacturing workers in developing countries.
Anyone who believes in free trade would want U.S. doctors and other professionals subjected to the same sort of competition. Otherwise, they really only want to use trade to lower the wages of less educated workers to benefit the wealthy. (Low wages means cheap help.) It is dishonest to call that policy "free trade."
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