Citizens of the United States have a voracious appetite for health care services. The cost structure of the American health care industry is systematically higher than the structure in any other country. Population aging is set to increase the demand for health care services. And as a result of the Affordable Care Act, we’re attempting to expand access to health care to millions of people locked out of the system right now. Under the circumstances it’s natural that many foreign-born medical professionals would be interested in moving to the United States, where payment rates and incomes for doctors are higher, and it’s natural to think the United States would welcome these people with open arms.
Except that as Catherine Rampell writes in the New York Times we don’t actually welcome them at all.
Everyone worries about health care costs, and everyone worries about stagnant wages, but people often don’t put the puzzle together correctly and see that the No. 1 thing we could do to raise real incomes for the majority of working people is to alleviate some of the supply-side problems in the health care sector. That means opening the doors to foreign doctors, letting nurse practitioners do more, creating more slots in medical schools, reforming pharmaceutical patents, and encouraging the growth of medical tourism. Making access to doctors more plentiful bolsters the incomes of everyone who consumers medical services (which is basically all of us) and creates lots of complementary employment opportunities. Some kinds of resource constraints—on liquid fuels, for example—are hard to solve from a technical point of view. But like the shortage of houses in high-wage cities, the shortage of people legally authorized to provide medical services in the United States is largely self-induced.