October 11, 2016

Lessen the Pain of Health Care Costs

Edward J. Timmons

Associate Professor of Economics, Saint Francis University

Jason M. Hockenberry

Emory University Associate Professor

Christine Piette Durrance

University of North Carolina Associate Professor

Americans spend $300 billion annually on pain treatment. Much of this is on treatment for back and neck pain, which two-thirds of us have sought at some point. Fortunately, we have more and better options than ever, and the American College of Physiciansconsiders chiropractic treatment and physical therapy to be effective. Unfortunately, medical licensing laws, as currently written in many states, may not be helping the situation.

In recently published research by the Mercatus Center at George Mason University, we examine how medical occupational licensing laws – including those that specify the tasks medical professionals are allowed to perform, or require patients to visit physicians before they can seek other treatments – are affecting the health care market.

We find that broadening chiropractors' scope of practice to allow them to perform routine medical tasks is associated with an 8.6 percent increase in their earnings. Why is it that chiropractors making more money is a good thing for patients? Our research suggests that patients are more comfortable with chiropractor services as a result of the legislative change. In addition, a visit to the chiropractor costs about 35 percent less than a visit to the physician.

Why, then, do Americans typically choose to see their family physician instead? It may be personal preference, or a lack of awareness of alternative health care providers. Or perhaps it is because physicians wield the authority to foreclose access to competitors as a result of their position on medical licensing boards and thus protect their market share.

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