As a follow-up to the post below on Milton Friedman’s Mayo Clinic talk on the “economics of medical care,” I present the two charts above.
The top chart shows the number of annual graduates from U.S. medical schools (AMA data here) per 100,000 U.S. population, from 1962 to 2011. Between about 1970 and 1984, there was a significant increase in medical school graduates that pushed the number of new physicians from 4 per 100,000 Americans in 1970 to almost 7 per 100,000 by 1984. Since 1984, the number of medical school graduates has been relatively flat (see red line in bottom chart), while the population has continued to grow, causing the number of new physicians per 100,000 population to decline to only 5.3 per 100,000 by 2008, the same ratio as back in 1974. Over the last few years the number of medical school graduates has increased slightly, and the ratio of graduates per 100,000 increased to 5.56 last year, the highest in a decade.
The bottom chart compares the actual number of medical school graduates (red line) to the projected number of graduates if the number of new physicians had keep pace with U.S. population increases, i.e. the ratio of graduates per 100,000 Americans had stayed at the 1984 level of 6.91. In that case, we would now be graduating close to 22,000 new doctors annually, and the cumulative increase in medical school graduates from a rate of 6.91 per 100,000 population over the last 27 years would mean that we would have 84,000 additional physicians today. <
In most professions, as the population grows and the demand for those occupations increase, we would expect to see an increase in the number of people employed in those professions. Over the last 25 years, the U.S. population has both increased in size, and gotten significantly older on average due to increasing life expectancy, and both of those factors would put upward pressure on the demand for physicians. But in the case of medicine, the supply of students entering medical schools has been restricted relative to the growing population, leading to an insufficient supply of doctors, and higher-than-market wages. This restriction on the supply of doctors relative to a growing population is one example of the "power of organized medicine" that Milton Friedman talks about in his lecture at the Mayo Clinic.
Also, in his classic 1962 book Capitalism and Freedom, Dr. Friedman describes the American Medical Association (AMA) as the “strongest trade union in the United States” and documents the ways in which the AMA vigorously restricts competition. For example, the “Council on Medical Education and Hospitals” of the AMA approves both medical schools and hospitals. By restricting the number of approved medical schools and the number of applicants to those schools, the AMA effectively limits the supply of physicians, which increases their wages, and raises the overall cost of medical care.