Bringing Business and Economic History into Health Care Studies

Christy Ford Chapin

While the discipline of economics has devoted an entire sub-field to health care, scholars from other fields, including history, have generally neglected business and economic themes in health care studies.  One reason scholars have omitted business and economic themes from health care studies is that the primary question driving the field has long been “Why does the U.S. lack socialized medicine?” or, put another way, “Why is the U.S. health care system different from those of Northern and Western Europe?”  While yielding an abundance of important information, particularly about U.S. political history, these queries have focused more on what the health care system is not (centralized and government-managed) than what it is (decentralized but largely managed by private insurance companies).  Another factor shaping the field is how some scholars have accepted the argument, made by organized physicians throughout the twentieth century, that the health care economy cannot submit to either competitive market or commercial principles. This paper will explore why understanding the business and economics of health care is so important.