Monday, May 05, 2003

CMS After-Action Report

My weekend at the Colorado Medical Society's "Physicians are Not Criminals" conference in Vail was outstanding. I finally was able to meet face to face with many of the physicians and IPA's CAC has defended in its FTC comment letters for the past year, and I think my speech motivated the doctors to finally start defending their rights with the full vigor they deserve.

It's hard to describe the feeling one gets when you meet a woman like Marcia Brauchler, an intense and uncompromising 31 year-old woman with a newborn child and who earns less than $30,000 helping doctors negotiate their fees with insurance companies, or Dr. Andy Fine, a quietly serious doctor who loves practicing medicine in Colorado, but wonderers how much longer he can afford to do so under the weight of all the regulations he faces. The government has named both a coercive threat to "consumers" in antitrust actions. These people are wholly innocent--and more that that--they are heroes. I say the government has become a coercive threat to them. The thought of it makes me sick, and that's a feeling I'm going to keep with me until these victims get the protection they deserve.

Two antitrust enforcers were also in attendance at the conference. Assistant Director Jeff Brennan from the FTC's Bureau of Competition was there, as well as Mark Toby, the Texas antitrust section chief. Brennan came right out and said it—his mandate is to protect "consumers." During the Q&A, I asked him the following question:

"You said in your speech that "competition" was the "bedrock of our economy." Why didn't you say that the principle of individual rights was the bedrock of our economy?

It seems that you hold a consumer has a right to his interest (i.e. low healthcare prices) but none of the doctors here have a right to their interest (i.e. all the remuneration the market will bear).

Why does a consumer have a right to the unearned (that which he is unwilling to pay for), but a doctor has no right to what he earns (that which others freely pay him?)"
Assistant Director Jeff Brennan was unable to answer my question. He simply re-iterated that competition was foundational, but did not articulate why. I might as well have been speaking to him in a foreign language.

This is why, despite all the advice doctors have been receiving, they can not hope to comply with antitrust, or hope to negotiate a better bargain with antitrust enforcers. Antitrust enforcers to not recognize their right to the wealth they freely earn. Antitrust enforcers label simple business practices as criminal and relegate the pursuit of one's happiness to an economic ghetto. The doctors are slowly coming to realize that this needs to be fought.

So as Skip mentioned earlier, I was pleased that the line from my speech that got the best reaction was, "Millions for defense, but not one cent in tribute." I'm not sure, but a think I even got an "amen."

I will transcribe my speech for the web later today, and I'll post the link as soon as I can.

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