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Health Econ Policy Law. 2008 Jul;3(Pt 3):301-11. doi: 10.1017/S1744133108004490.

Consumer-directed health care: promise or puffery?

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  • 1International Program, The Hastings Center, New York 10524, USA.


Consumer-directed health care (CDHC) is one of the basic ideas that has emerged in recent years as a way of bringing greater efficiency and cost control into health care. Its principal aims are to give patients greater control over their care, economically as well as medically, and to improve competition among providers to increase the range of patient control. Its roots are American, bespeaking a cultural suspicion of government, a worry about rising costs, and an appeal to the popularity of choice in almost all matters, now including health care. CDHC also bespeaks the ideology of market ideology, drawing on both market concepts in economics and a push by American conservatives (particularly President George W. Bush) to privatize as much of American health care as possible). It draws particularly on the business community as a source of ideas and inspiration, assuming that if choice and competition work well in the commercial sector, it will work equally well in health care. A fundamental question, however, is not simply how well business models might work, but also whether thinking of the patient as a savvy consumer could ever make full sense in the face of complicated, emotionally charged illnesses and complex decision-making situations. Skepticism is in order.

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