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Applying Supply and Demand Analysis to Health Care

One out of every seven dollars spent in the United States is spent for health care services. This is a greater percentage than in any other industrialized country.1 The topic of health care arouses deep emotions and generates intense media coverage. How can we understand many of the important health care issues? One approach is to listen to the normative statements made by politicians and other concerned citizens. Another approach is to use supply and demand theory to analyze the issue. Here again the objective is to bring textbook theory to life and use it to provide you with a deeper understanding of health service markets.


There is a downward-sloping demand curve for health care services just as there is for other goods and services. Following the same law of demand that applies to cars, clothing, entertainment, and other goods and services, movements along the demand curve for health care occur because consumers respond to changes in the price of health care. As shown in Exhibit A-1, we assume that health care, including doctor visits, medicine, hospital bills, and other medical services, can be measured in units of health care. Without health insurance, consumers buy Q1 units of health care services per year at a price of P1 per unit. Assuming supply curve S represents the quantity supplied, the market is in equilibrium at point A. At this point, the total cost of health care can be computed by the price of health care (P1) times the quantity demanded (Q1) or represented geometrically by the rectangle 0P1 AQ1. Analysis of the demand curve for health care is complicated by the way health care is financed. About 80 percent of all health care is paid for by third parties, including private insurance companies and government programs, such as…...

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