Healthcare Exceptionalism? Productivity and Allocation in the U.S. Healthcare Sector
The conventional wisdom in health economics is that large differences in average productivity across hospitals are the result of idiosyncratic, institutional features of the healthcare sector which dull the role of market forces. Strikingly, however, we find that productivity dispersion in heart attack treatment across hospitals is, if anything, smaller than in narrowly defined manufacturing industries such as ready-mixed concrete. While this fact admits multiple interpretations, we also find evidence against the conventional wisdom that the healthcare sector does not operate like an industry subject to standard market forces. In particular, we find that hospitals that are more productive at treating heart attacks have higher market shares at a point in time and are more likely to expand over time. For example, a 10 percent increase in hospital productivity today is associated with about 4 percent more patients in 5 years. Taken together, these facts suggest that the healthcare sector may have more in common with “traditional” sectors than is often assumed.