Leave Home Care Alone

This article originally appeared in USA Today.

Home healthcare is doing a remarkable job of providing affordable healthcare for millions of Americans. So, naturally, the governmentwants to regulate it.

Although still in its infancy,home health care has already shown that it can reduce health carecosts, particularly for the elderly. Nursing home care costs asmuch as $150 per day, but a home health care aid costs less than $20per hour, for one or two hours per day.

Despite anecdotal horror stories,there is no evidence of widespread abuse in the industry. Thereare already laws on the books against fraud, theft, and abuse.Home health care providers who violate those laws should be vigorouslyprosecuted and severely punished. We don't need a new regulatorybureaucracy to strangle this promising industry in its crib withpaperwork crimes and volumes of regulatory minutiae.

Numerous studies have shown thatlicensing and other regulation of the medical professions havedone little to improve patient care or prevent abuse. Forexample, medical economist Gary Gaumer reviewed all the available literatureon medical licensing and regulation and concluded that"tighter controls do not lead to improvements in the qualityof service." Likewise, David Young, examining licensing andregulatory requirements for a variety of professions concludedthat such regulation has "at best a neutral effect onquality and may even cause harm to consumers."

While increased regulation willdo little to protect consumers, it will almost certainly increasecosts. Regulations will add three costs: (1) the cost of amassive new regulatory bureaucracy; (2) the cost of complyingwith the regulations; and (3) the cost of decreased competitionwithin the industry. Increasing costs may end up putting homecare out of reach of many Americans.

Before turning to government, weshould look at the variety of nongovernmental measures that canbe taken to ensure the quality of providers. For example, theindustry can give its seal of approval to providers that meet certainstandards, much the way Underwriters Laboratory certifieselectrical products.

If Americans really mean it when they say that they want the end of big government, they cannot expect a new government bureaucracy to solve every perceived problem.

Michael D. Tanner

Michael Tanner is director of health and welfare studies at the Cato Institute.