A Bad T-shirt Won't Kill You.

Dean Baker: Our median pay for doctors in the United States is somewhere around $250,000 a year....if you look to West Europe, median pay would be a bit over $100,000 a year. And you're very hard pressed to say why our doctors should get so much more than doctors elsewhere in the world.

Robert Smith: Now, if we were talking about a product, if say t-shirts in America cost twice as much as in the rest of the world, we would just import more t-shirts, right? We would get them cheaper.
"Anatomical Edu-Wear" from Seasons Studios.
DB: Same thing with doctors, we should think of doctors the same way we think of the shirts, that, you know, if we can get doctors for lower cost from elsewhere in the world, then we could save enormous amounts of money.

RS: Now, the difference, of course, is that a bad t-shirt won't kill you."



From Episode #442 of Planet Money, "Into the Future." 



Is this a fair comparison? Would you want to have the H&M t-shirt of doctors as your primary care physician, or the Herm├Ęs version? Later in the episode they return to this theme, making an important distinction:

RS: ...the benefit isn't just for the foreign doctors. Imagine all the competition, doctors opening offices on every corner, driving the price of health care down. As they might say about t-shirts: if you can make sure the quality is the same, why pay more?