Where’s the Waffle House of Healthcare?

Comedian Kevin Frederick says, "Mind Your Business, AJC!" when he finds out his favorite Waffle House failed its health inspection. Still image from his YouTube channel.

Ever eaten in a Waffle House? Do you travel on Southwest? When we need to save money, we will sacrifice some of the niceties.  Sometimes we’ll use gross bathrooms and grimy silverware, if it means breakfast is $4. We’ll fight strangers for seats if that means we can afford to fly home for the holidays. We’ll buy the dented Ikea desk if it’s half price.

Everybody evaluates what he is willing to put up with for a bargain, and what he’ll pay for incremental improvements. Comedian Kevin Fredericks humorously highlights our “good enoughs” in his viral video about a health inspection at Waffle House.

Go watch, because it’s hilarious. But come right back, because this is serious.

We know it’s dirty! Mind your business, Atlanta Journal Constitution! You want clean silverware, go to IHOP or Denny’s. You want something for $5, go to Waffle House. That’s why we come here!”

Few Waffle House diners would deny better restaurants exist. Dining there is a cost-benefit analysis of available alternatives. Denny’s has more choices, but it’s twice as far away. Cleaner, but more expensive. Variation in customer preferences – what we think is important in a breakfast spot – supports a spectrum of choices, each with its own advantages and trade-offs. The freedom to choose between them means more choices for everyone. 

Now imagine:
A white-tablecloth brunch place down the street bribes the health inspector to close Waffle House. If you need a permission slip to choose where to eat, you might trust the inspector’s judgement that Denny’s is the cheapest option available.

 But that wouldn’t be true for people like Kevin Fredericks, and they’d be forced to pay more for something they don’t value.  Waffle House would be illegal to consume, and you might (wrongly) believe you couldn’t afford to eat out at all. 

Limited Options = Higher Prices:

And you might believe you can’t afford healthcare, because all the good-enough options are illegal.  Lobbyists and regulators – other self-interested humans – have the power to remove some of your choices.  The remaining choices get more expensive.

When Denny’s uses the health department to close down Waffle House, that’s regulatory capture. Special interests are using the authority of governments to protect their profits. 

FDA and pharma patents limit the generic drugs that can be given or sold to you. 

State medical boards and current doctors limit the number of doctors who can practice near you. 

State insurance exchanges limit the number of health insurers to a handful in each state. 

CON laws let existing hospitals limit the opening of new hospitals in your town. 

The most expensive healthcare providers get to decide whether lower-cost options should be available.  Denny’s votes to close Waffle House down.

What is the Waffle House of healthcare?

A C- med school grad who becomes the only doctor in a no-doctor rust belt town.  Nope

A safe, clean pregnancy clinic with narrow doorways.  Illegal. 

A strip-mall imaging center offering low-cost MRIs.  Can’t do that.

An online eye exam and mail-order contacts. Banned.

An identical insulin or medication from Canada or Mexico. Against the law

You might be fooled into thinking you couldn’t afford health care because affordable health care has been regulated out of existence. If you’re limited to Denny’s Insurance-Only ER and Perkins’ Pricey Pharmacy that might mean you’re out of options.

You might not choose to join Kevin and I at Waffle House Urgent Care or Good-Enough Online Eye Doc. But shouldn’t you have the right to?

Read more from this author:
on everyday economics:
fee.org/people/laura-williams
on policy issues affecting Georgia: lpgeorgia.com/author/laurawilliams
on literally anything you can think of: ThatGhostwriter.com

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