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169. Jeff Arnold: A Passionate Entrepreneur Profitably Redesigns The Insurance Experience

Is there any industry a passionate entrepreneur can’t improve and enhance by elevating the customer experience? The answer is clearly no. Economics For Business talks to Jeff Arnold, who finds insurance fun, exciting, and a source of inspiration, and who is advancing profitably towards the new future he’s imagining, where buying insurance is so enjoyable that customers will stop shopping on price and clamor for the new experience he is designing.

Key Takeaways and Actionable Insights

Passionate, creative entrepreneurs can deliver profitable innovation to any industry, no matter how static and rigid it may seem.

Jeff Arnold loves insurance. He told us he finds it fun, awesome, and exciting. Studying the intricacies of contractually trading and transferring risk for payment generated a lifetime interest and passion in him. He’s turned that passion into revenue and profit by delivering new value to customers in aspect of their life or their business that is extremely important to them.

As a good Austrian, Jeff Arnold views his industry first from the customer’s perspective.

Customer-first. That’s the Austrian way of business. When Jeff thinks about insurance, he thinks from the consumers’ perspective. They pay hundreds of thousands of dollars over a lifetime for insurance of many kinds: house, automobile, business, medical care, and more. Do they know exactly what they are buying — or, perhaps more importantly, not buying because of exclusions buried deep in the small type of the appendices to an insurance policy agreement? How do they feel about the customer interface, including call center phone trees and hard-to-decipher policy documents?

From this perspective, he is able to develop design principles for an insurance business with a better customer experience:

  • Help customers to think about a systematic lifetime plan for all their insurances;
  • Help them develop the knowledge required to properly understand insurance offers and alternative policies;
  • Give them the opportunity to customize insurance products for their needs as opposed to buying a commoditized vanilla product;
  • Help them to get the exchange value from the purchase that is right for them.
  • Give them an interpersonal experience that’s much better than the industry norm.

Jeff focuses his customers on value, not price.

Most often, buyers approach an insurance purchase with a transactional frame of mind: how can I pay the lowest price. They’ll shop around to find it. Jeff wants to put an end to “price shopping”, to be replaced with a value calculation: what coverage do I need, how did I get it, and who is the best provider?

The value calculation often entails discovering and eliminating exclusions — coverages that are excluded in the fine print of the contract. These exclusions occur in home insurance (which is especially hard to read and understand) auto insurance (there are 12-14 exclusions to look for according to Jeff) and commercial or business insurance (where many coverages are automatically excluded and must be built back in item by item, with careful attention to detail).

The value solution lies in the integration of technology and personal service.

Jeff’s latest business, RightSure, aims to get individuals the right insurance by using A.I. in combination with “famously friendly humans”, i.e., staff carefully selected and trained to deliver knowledge and service in an amenable way. The A.I. can provide a preliminary phone interface, a chatbot interface on the website, and can do an excellent job of matching customer needs to the right policies. Famously friendly people can patiently explain all the policy options, point out what’s covered and what’s excluded, answer customer questions, and help them to make informed decisions. They’re good at listening, exhibit high empathy, and can help customers navigate from suspicion to trust.

The combination of A.I. and famously friendly humans delivers a superior customer experience while also achieving high levels of efficiency. The return on investment in human capital is as high as the return on technology capital. The combination generates brand uniqueness.

Jeff represents entrepreneurship in action in the insurance industry.

Jeff Arnold is a quintessential entrepreneur. He’s driven by a passion for his industry, where he spent a career in multiple roles before launching his current business. He gathered knowledge he learned from others and from his own experience in those various roles. He innovates by having a more highly developed customer focus than others, and commits to a better experience for his customers than they can expect elsewhere. And he knows how to combine and recombine assets and resources in new ways to deliver that better experience. He continuously monitors the customer experience and customer sentiment to keep improving.

His primary skill are empathy and imagination — understanding the experience customers prefer and designing it in his mind before bringing it to life. He doesn’t need technology expertise to bring his vision to life; he can buy that on the market. It is the human factors of empathy and imagination that lie behind his superior product.

Imagining the future drives product and service innovation.

After a lifetime in the insurance industry and informed by hundreds and thousands of conversations with consumers, Jeff can accurately identify current dissatisfactions and easily imagine future products and services to address some of those satisfactions. Some of the ones he mentioned in our conversation were:

The macro policy: Why do customers have to buy home and auto and business and medical insurance I separate policies and separate transactions. What if there could be one macro policy for a family, adjustable to new needs as life goes on yet still a “one policy” solution for managing all the risks a family faces?

Expanding liability coverage: It seems like lawmakers and courts are continuously finding new things the rest of us are guilty of, like saying bad things on social media. Liabilities are expanding — Jeff called it social inflation. What if our policies could keep up without us having to adjust them in new transactions?

New payment systems: What if we bought automobile insurance by the mile instead of in a lump? Or what if we got refunds based on good driving habits (which is beginning to happen with telematics)? Generally, the payment system of lump sums for coverage over a time period can be replaced by behavioral measures of consumption.

These are the kinds of innovation Jeff is imagining, and working hard on bringing to market. Entrepreneurs make the world a better place.

Additional Resources

Jeff Arnold’s author page on Amazon.com: Mises.org/E4B_169_Author

Jeff’s website, Ambassador For The Insurance Industry: JeffArnold.com

The Art Of The Insurance Deal by Jeff Arnold: Mises.org/E4B_169_Book

RightSure.com

167. Mo Hamzian: Everyone Deserves the Best Workplace

There’s a lot of speculation about the future of work — what form it will take, where it will be done, and who will do it (including the robots versus humans debate). We talk to Mo Hamzian, an entrepreneur who is not only theorizing about the future of work, but building newly imagined workspaces that combine spatial design with technology and custom services, making elite workspaces available to everyone.

Key Takeaways and Actionable Insights

Entrepreneurship is now both an economic and societal trend, opening up business opportunities of its own.

Entrepreneurship is now, as our guest Mo Hamzian styles it, “a thing”. It’s in the forefront of culture, it’s always in the news, it’s a lifestyle choice as well as a business choice, it’s a career, it’s a source of new heroes for our time.

  • Institutions of entrepreneurship are growing: schools are teaching entrepreneurship, media are covering entrepreneurship, technology is supporting entrepreneurship.
  • Standards are emerging: tools like our own value learning process and 4 Vs value generation model, as well as processes like the Business Model Canvas are becoming standards of the entrepreneurial method.
  • The sharing of entrepreneurial knowledge in a community is expanding via mentoring by experienced entrepreneurs.

As a consequence, we see the emergence of new societal norms.

An entrepreneurial society favors self-reliance over dependency, resourcefulness over entitlement, breakout achievement versus structured conformity, and creativity over formula. Entrepreneurship is understood as a journey that is never completed, and may adaptively follow many diversions in pursuit of evolving goals, rather than a predictable climb up the hierarchical ladder of the corporation. Keep thinking rather than keep climbing.

Even inside the corporation, structure is giving way to small self-organizing teams and corporate procedures are being replaced by adaptiveness and agility.

One of the implications of the growth of entrepreneurship is the trend that gets the name “The Future Of Work”.

Entrepreneurship brings many significant social changes, including flexibility of time and place and methods of work. And the government’s pandemic policies of shutting down office and work spaces and encouraging work-from-home accelerated those changes. Now it is clear, more than ever, that, in the digital age, there is no need whatsoever to commute through grey suburbs on jammed roads or overcrowded trains to get to a dull and depressing cubicle farm just so that you can be in the same building with the other sad souls who are your colleagues.

Cities will empty out, commercial office markets will enter a period of secular decline, and individuals will feel liberated and empowered to do their best work in the physical location and surroundings of their choice.

One way to seize the opportunity represented by the future of work is via real estate itself — repurposed and re-imagined.

Mo Hamzian is an entrepreneur who sees the opportunity in real estate for work where many might see only decline. He looks at it through a different lens, as entrepreneurs do. Can real estate provide the multi-purpose flexibility and adaptiveness required for today’s and tomorrow’s work patterns? It can if looked at creatively.

The creative lens is the customer-first lens: everyone deserves the best workplace.

Business thinking that prioritizes customer sovereignty can often solve the most challenging problems. Mo Hamzian translates the unmet needs of today’s distributed workforce as seeking the best space from which to work — comfortable, well-equipped, good acoustics and conferencing technology, a place that “recognizes you” and your needs.

He developed his ideas, in part, by studying the workspaces of the business elites — the top bankers, tech executives and corporate CEO’s. These are immersive, high tech, high comfort, high style ecosystems you never want to leave. They’re available to a very few. What if they were made available to a much wider audience? This is the way many markets evolve — first, affordable at great expense only for a few, then quickly expanded to a mass audience.

This is the idea behind VEL — Mo Hamzian’s startup to bring elite workspaces to a wide audience of users on demand.

  • Do your best work: the VEL concept is aimed at personal productivity, encouraging the individual to achieve high quality output in a temporary workspace. This implies, of course, some responsibility and commitment on the part of the user.
  • Achieve flow: the ultimate level of individual work is characterized by the feeling of flow — the fulfilment of experiencing how good you are and how much you are improving while doing your work. VEL’s workspace and technology are designed to support flow.
  • Elite environment for everyone: Mo Hamzian’s study of immersive elite workplaces enables designs that bring the same experience to a temporary workspace.
  • Technology: From wi-fi telecommunications and conferencing to (in the future) A.I. and VR and holography, there’s a lot that technology can do to support high quality and high productivity work, and VEL can provide it on demand at variable cost and affordable pricing.
  • Flexible access: customers can rent VEL space and technology by the hour or by the day, in whatever configuration they prefer.
  • Democratization and decentralization: VEL workspaces are available to all, with an aim to distribute them across the country for wide availability, whether urban, suburban, or rural, wherever work can be done.
  • Customization and recognition: Ultimately, the high-tech VEL workspace will recognize the individual when they walk in and configure to their customized set of needs.

The VEL concept removes frictions and barriers that might otherwise stand in the way of the future of work and the future of distributed entrepreneurship.

As we advance towards a more entrepreneurial future across the entire business landscape, from big corporations operated by flexible, agile teams to individual practitioners, gig workers and small, highly specialized and highly networked companies, concepts like VEL will be an important part of the enabling infrastructure.

Additional Resources

Mo’s LinkedIn page: LinkedIn.com/in/MoHamzian

Mentioned by Mo as a worthwhile mentoring site: GrowthMentor.com

VEL website: MyVEL.com

165. Darshan Mehta: Insights Are Game-Changers For Business

What drives customer behavior and customer choices? It’s the existential question for business; you’ve got to know the answer. But it’s a mystery, hard to unlock. The solution to this answer lies in what market researchers call insights, based on the Austrian deductive method that we summarized in episode #164 with Per Bylund. In episode #165, we talk to Darshan Mehta, a lifelong professional in the field, an advisor to global and local brands, an originator of insights technology, and a deep thinker in the field.

Key Takeaways and Actionable Insights

Insights mark the road to innovation and differentiation and give businesses a competitive advantage.

By definition, an insight is a deep understanding of the motivation of an individual: why they do what they do, choose what they choose, and stop doing what they used to do? What guides their behaviors, what they do with their time, and how they find betterment and ease?

These individual motivations can sometimes be exhibited as technology trends, social trends and cultural shifts. Insights help businesses understand the drivers of these shifts in the landscape, as well as how these shifts, in turn, change individual behavior. Causality works in both directions.

Insights are multi-dimensional, and businesses need to install multi-dimensional systems to generate insights.

No single method and no single information or data source will deliver the deep and rich insights businesses need. Darshan Mehta recommends a multi-dimensional approach.

Conversations with customers

This is the number one source of data for insights generation: deep, rich, personal, subjective, and revealing. It requires some skill development to be good at customer conversations. Empathy is a key ingredient — what Darshan calls “being a people person”, interested in how people feel, and with the curiosity to learn and the humility to understand that a lot of what is important to customer decision-making resides in the sub-conscious and is difficult to articulate. In fact, conversation helps people to learn how to describe their feelings and motivations, if the interviewer lets the conversation develop slowly and with time for self-reflection to dawn. The human-to-human connection factor is important, whether in a one-on-one conversation, a group setting (such as a focus group) or an online chat.

Whether your business is present in the conversation or not, customers are having those conversations, so it’s important to listen and take part.

There are tools on the econ4business.com website to frame in-depth interviews:

  • Contextual In-Depth Interview Method: View Tool

and for listening with empathy:

  • Episode 33 – “Isabel Aneyba: Listening From the Heart and the Techniques of Empathy”: Listen to the episode

Behavior observation

The Austrian deductive method comes into play when the data is in the form of behavior that we can actually observe — accompanied shopping, ethnography, buying data, shopping data, video data, eye-tracking, A/B testing. All of these give us information about behavior. The next step in insight generation is to deduce the drivers of the behavior. Sometimes we may have some conversational data or sentiment data (such as from surveys) to combine with the behavioral data, sometimes not.

The process of working backwards from behavior to motivation uses the question, “Why?” Why did they act that way? Why did they reject an alternative? What could possibly be behind the behavior? If they acted unexpectedly, or out-of-pattern, or differently than last time, why was that? The standard of 5 Why’s is often invoked to get to the deepest understanding. But it’s not the repetitive 5 Why’s of the child asking mom why they can’t have a piece of candy. The Why’s must be deeply thought-out, probing, significant Why’s to get to the next level of understanding.

Data analytics

Analysis of so-called big data can make a contribution to multi-dimensional insights generation, especially if the data relates to behavior such as buying patterns, clickstreams, and cultural shifts in behavior (like Tik-Tok usage). Data can’t reveal drivers or deeply felt dissatisfactions, but it can reveal trends and even suggest some preferences (e.g., shifts in usage from one brand of social media to another). Data analysis algorithms don’t ask why, they ask what — especially what data patterns and pattern shifts can be observed. Bear this in mind when integrating data analytics into your multi-dimensional insights generation process.

Learn the language of dissatisfaction.

The drivers of customer choice are always derived from dissatisfaction. Because they are seeking betterment, they must, logically, be dissatisfied with current conditions. It’s very tricky to identify dissatisfactions because the language of articulation is subjective and personal. Researchers and engineers and designers talk about “pain points”, but customers probably don’t. They may talk about what makes them “crazy”, or “upset”, or “frustrated”. Relative satisfaction / dissatisfaction could be revealed by brand-switching. Installing feedback loops for activation immediately after the customer’s product or service experience can help gather relevant data, especially if you can gather the feedback in the customer’s language rather than your own.

Insights are built through combination, recombination, and synthesis.

“Insights lie where worlds collide” is a quote from Darshan’s book (Getting To Aha! Why Today’s Insight Are Tomorrow’s Facts). What he means by that is it’s a combination and recombination of conversational data and analytical data and trend observations and cultural shifts that ultimately generate the insight.

Blending and mixing and putting elements together to reveal new possibilities beats logic in the process of insights generation. Call it synthesis. And before synthesis can take place, the ability to break down wholes into component parts in a creative way is required. Analysis and synthesis, destruction and creation.

Ultimately, human emotion lies behind all insights and all innovation: experiences are feelings.

Technically, the drivers of customer behavior change can be tracked to functional factors such as speed (faster), cost (cheaper), and / or convenience (easier). But beyond these lies emotion — the feeling that an experience is, was, or can be great. Customers buy experiences, not goods or services. A solution that evokes emotion results in (according to Darshan) a response that’s 12X stronger than one based on just faster/cheaper/easier. Therefore, an insight that evinces emotion — reveals it, brings it to light — is the most valuable of all.

It’s important to understand the language of positive emotion, as well as the language of dissatisfaction. An experience evokes emotion when customers call it amazing or super-cool or use superlatives of that kind.

Customers bond most strongly to businesses that can align with their highest values.

Beyond even the strongest emotional benefits lie highest values: lifetime values for which customers are always striving. Examples include family security — always a goal and never entirely realized — a sense of achievement — there’s always more to achieve — and a world of peace — we know today how elusive that is.

Brands that can associate themselves with these highest values — purpose-driven brands — or help customers attain them for themselves will be especially prized and loved in today’s markets. Humanizing brands in a digital world is a difficult standard to attain, and making the emotional connection with the customer on the subject of their highest and most strongly held values is the pathway.

Listen to the Economics For Business Podcast on the role of highest values in business.

It’s a modern expression of customer sovereignty that brand buyers are so active in evaluating products and services based on their assessment of the values exhibited by the corporations behind them, and that they seek to change the world through buying and not buying.

Better insights can help led us to a better world by identifying dissatisfactions and pointing to new solutions. Insights are visions of what makes us human, improving what connects us and unites us.

Additional Resources

Getting To Aha! Why Today’s Insights Are Tomorrow’s Facts by Darshan Mehta: Buy It On Amazon

iResearch.com

164. Per Bylund: Think Better, Think Austrian — A How-To Guide

Think better, think Austrian is the mantra we have adopted for our Economics For Business project. Economics is a way of thinking. It’s conceptual, and its concepts can help businesses to make better decisions. The most important business decisions are those that pertain to the generation of value for customers, since that is the purpose of the firm. We talk with economist Dr. Per Bylund about exactly how the Austrian way of thinking helps businesspeople in every role to think better, and the business benefits that ensue.

Key takeaways and Actionable Insights.

“Think Better, Think Austrian” means starting from first principles.

Businesses are concerned with behavior — with action. The most important behavior is that of customers . Do they buy, or do they not buy?

The Austrian economics framework places people, and the effort to understand what they are trying to do, in the center of its analysis. First principles in Austrian economics teach us that people act to improve their circumstances—to somehow make things better for themselves. We recognize that people have a purpose in mind, and they make choices that lead them to attaining what they want or need.

It is from this first principle that business owners and entrepreneurs can work backwards to understand the motivations behind the actions of our prospective customers. We can ask why. And we should.

Thinking backwards reveals new understanding.

If customers act in a way we don’t understand, or differently from the way we expect them to act, or hope they will act, we can work backwards from what we’ve learned without judgment and instead exercise empathy. They might do something “crazy” — like using a product in a very unexpected way, or buying a competitive product that we know to be “inferior” in some sense. We know that their action made sense to them, and that they believed they would be better off compared to alternative choices or actions. Working backwards from this understanding enables us to deduce their motivation, and what value they were seeking. We can learn from their “crazy” action and rethink our offering. We can choose to take their feedback, even if it doesn’t make sense to us, and offer them an alternative.

Thinking better requires a relationship with the customer.

Successful business owners and entrepreneurs must develop a deep enough relationship with their customers to understand how they think, how they feel, and how they perceive things. Additionally, we must learn the context in which they are making their choices—there’s no such thing as a non-contextual choice. Per Bylund makes this clear when he explains that ice cream in summer is a different product choice than ice cream in winter, and clothes for business wear at the office are a different choice than clothes for working from home. Consider this: Whom does the consumer believe is observing and judging them and what standards are being applied? Those are important contextual factors to be taken into account.

The Austrian thinker considers all these influences on the customer and uses them to build and nurture relationships

We know that the ultimate purpose for customer action is the relief of some unease.

How do consumers and customers decide what they want to spend their money on? Rather than asking ourselves what people want to buy, we can ask ourselves what decisions people make in pursuit of better circumstances. They start from a position of dissatisfaction. They feel unhappy, or disappointed, or feel let down or lacking in some way. Contented people don’t act. People whose every comfort has been seen to, and who lack nothing—people who aren’t experiencing any unease—don’t buy. Discontented people do. This never-fully-satisfied feeling of discontent on the part of the customer is the universal resource for the entrepreneur. It is never exhausted because people are never fully content or fully satisfied in all of their many needs.

Customers use this heuristic to calculate potential value, even though they likely have no idea they are doing it. They think, to what degree do I expect my choice to relieve my discontent? Satisfaction is achieved not so much via the benefit that products and services promise, but via the burdens that are taken away: less work, less difficulty, less effort, less cost to get to a feeling of less discontent or less fear or less concern or less stress.

Often, of course, customers’ concerns are social. How do others see me, how do I appear to them, how do I compare to others in appearance or competence or achievement? The relief of unease is always subjective and often the subjectivity comes in the form of the customer comparing themselves to others, or to their own assessment of others’ judgment of them.

The entrepreneur listens carefully to what customers say, and observes their actual behavior, then uses empathy to understand what process the customer is using to define their unease and ways to relieve it.

Additional Resources

“Think Better, Think Austrian” How-To Guide (PDF): Download PDF

“Per Bylund on Opportunity Costs”: Listen To Episode 7

163. Joe Matarese: Entrepreneurial Solutions To Medical Tyranny (Part 2, The Solution)

The medical care industry is so restrictive of individual freedoms — those of both of doctors and patients — that we can legitimately classify it as tyrannical. As is always the case, the solution will come from entrepreneurship, the creative and innovative response of individuals, doctors and teams and firms and their new business models to the dissatisfactions of patients and users of today’s system.

Joe Matarese is one of those innovative individuals. In episode #162 of the Economics for Business podcast, he described the nature and cause of the problem. In episode #163, he surveys the entrepreneurial solutions, some of which are beginning to emerge and some of which still lie in the future.

Key Takeaways and Actionable Insights

As with all entrepreneurial solutions, the consumer is in the driving seat.

The consumer — in this case, the patient — are clear in what they want, and what they don’t always get: quality care, accessible and convenient, at an affordable price.

Their definition of quality includes the alignment of interests between medical professionals and patients. Accessibility and convenience result from timely response to patient needs as opposed to lines, waiting rooms and delays. Affordable prices will arise when pricing is open as opposed to hidden behind the veil of insurance, co-pays, and healthcare-as-a-benefit rather than as an economic good.

Direct Primary Care is the business model that aligns doctor and patient interests.

The new emerging model of membership-based primary care (see BigTreeMedical.com) is a doctor or a small team of doctors setting up an independent practice and recruiting a customer base of subscription-paying patients. In return for a monthly or annual subscription, the patient enjoys access, and one-on-one consultations on demand (usually via tele-medicine visits). The doctor is often networked into a pharmacy (or the practice obtain a pharmacy license) so the patients access to drugs is facilitated, and the prices of drugs to the patient can be lowered.

Most importantly, the patients are able to build a strong relationship with their primary care doctor. Health monitoring can be closer and more personalized, and early treatment — one of the most important variables in medical care efficacy — can be facilitated.

The direct primary care practice is networked into specialists and treatment centers so that the doctor and patient together can choose the treatment pathway that is best for the individual — tailored to individual circumstances and needs.

Personalized technology supplements the Direct Primary Care model, greatly enhancing the health outcome benefits for the patient.

The direct primary care model and one-on-one patient-physician relationship provide the ideal conditions for the deployment of modern personalized technologies. Condition-monitoring watches and wristbands and other wearable or portable consumer electronics can provide the doctor with monitoring data and send an alert for any change in condition or abnormal reading. The doctor or patient can call for an immediate diagnostic consultation.

A direct primary care practice can be networked into an imaging center and a testing center for supplemental data acquisition — many of the new devices are mobile and can come to the patient, rather than vice versa, or can provide more immediate and convenient accessibility.

Personalized networked tech provides a new infrastructure for patient-directed monitoring and analysis (whereas the Obamacare “standard of practice” protocol predetermines what tests and diagnostics a patient can access, locked behind a bureaucratic gateway).

An entrepreneurial ecosystem of services will emerge to support the Direct Primary Care model.

The opportunities for entrepreneurs in the new medical care ecosystem are, to use Joe Matarese’s word, endless. He cited, as an example, the Surgery Center Of Oklahoma (SurgeryCenterOK.com), which posts cash prices for surgeries online (no hidden fees), and can usually provide service within 24 hours. They take no insurance and patients pay cash. On a broader geographic scale, medical tourism destinations with open pricing give patients the opportunity to find best pricing and provide the latest equipment and top doctors.

There are cost sharing services such as Sedera (Sedera.com) that offer new ways for patients to pay for healthcare in a peer-to-peer sharing of large unexpected medical costs. Sedera’s Cash Pay Directory provides educational resources and shopping tools to “help members become savvy healthcare shoppers”.

There are negotiation vendors who help patients to get fair pricing on medical bills from the big hospital conglomerates. There are online pharmacy vendors, like Mark Cuban’s Cost Plus Drug Company (CostPlusDrugs.com), to help patients shop for the best drug values.

There are entrepreneurial services like Freedom Health Works (FreedomHealthWorks.com) to help Direct Primary Care doctors with billing systems, office tech and the business infrastructure for a modern practice.

In the entrepreneurial world of healthcare, entrepreneurs compete to provide the best and most affordable services ecosystem so that patients can enjoy the best healthcare.

Open pricing and cash payments are an important component of the new system.

A big problem, perhaps the biggest problem, with the current medical care system is that the price system is not able to work in the way that it works in free markets. As Joe put it in episode #161, medical care system is “price-less”. Because payments are made by a third-party payer and not by the individual consumer, pricing becomes opaque to the user and economic calculation is rendered impossible. The third-party payment veil has resulted in price escalation and price manipulation and multiple prices for the same procedure at the same facility depending on whether the payments are immediate or deferred and the degree of bureaucratic and regulatory involvement.

If patients were to pay cash for treatments, they could make better decisions about exchange value. Catastrophic insurance for unexpected and rare events would make the use of insurance more like its application in car insurance and fire insurance — a properly priced optional spreading of risk for unexpected future events.

Consumers and physicians will collaborate in the creation of a parallel system for medical care.

Joe Matarese believes the status quo medical care edifice is too rigid and entangled to reform. The solution lies in a parallel system. If consumers activate their demand for improvements in quality, accessibility, convenience and payments systems, entrepreneurs will respond with new market-based offerings. Customers will flock to them because of the benefits they perceive in contrast to the current system. Market feedback loops of satisfaction and dissatisfaction will rapidly fine-tune the new parallel system to a higher level of value and acceptance. Joe estimates that to will take only 5-10 years for the new system to take over.

Additional Resources

“Entrepreneurial Solutions to Medical Tyranny” (PDF): Mises.org/E4B_163_PDF

Medicus Healthcare Solutions: MedicusHCS.com

162. Joe Matarese: Medical Tyranny and Its Entrepreneurial Solutions (Part 1, The Problem)

Medical care in the US exemplifies how the perverse effects of accumulated, self-reinforcing economic errors can render a system dysfunctional for consumers. As CEO of Medicus Healthcare Solutions, Joe Matarese has seen the current system from the inside — working and interacting with thousands of hospitals and thousands of providers, primarily doctors, around the country, dealing with processes, bureaucracies, government reimbursement procedures, and the full gamut of the producer side of the medical care system. In Part 1 of a two-part podcast series, he gives us the informed insider’s view.

Key Takeaways and Actionable Insights

Many forces combine and interact to produce the medical care system we experience today.

Politics: As in almost all cases of market destruction, politicians are highly responsible. They have decided that the medical care of individual citizens is an appropriate field for their interventions, and they meddle in their usual ignorant and incompetent fashion. Dr. Scott Atlas of Stamford University was one who documented some of this glaring incompetence and its resultant creation of the crisis response to the COVID-19 pandemic in his book A Plague Upon Our House. The impact of political incompetence on individuals’ experience of medical care is not limited to COVID-19, but Atlas’ book provides one excellent example.

Regulation: Politicians don’t just meddle; they legislate and regulate. The Affordable Care Act of 2011 is a particularly significant milestone. It created a regulatory environment in which it became virtually impossible for independent physician groups to function. Smaller and rural hospitals could not survive the regulatory burdens imposed, and many closed or were acquired by larger hospital groups. The resultant consolidation and anti-decentralization led to centralized decision-making (particularly evident in the COVID-19 pandemic, but much more broadly impactful than just that event) to the effect that individual doctors are told how to practice and how to treat their patients. The one-on-one doctor-patient relationship that flexibly exercises the experience of the doctor on behalf of the individual needs of the patient and their particular condition Is no longer operative. Doctors now apply a centrally designed pre-determined “standard of care” (and are even told by the AMA what “woke” language to use when interacting with their patients).

Bureaucracy: With regulation comes bureaucracy. Central to the medical care system is the CMS bureaucracy — The Centers For Medicare And Medicaid Services. (You can visit the behemoth at cms.gov — it’s instructive to see the breadth and depth of its reach.) This is the home, for example, of the code lists that govern medical care billing and payment policies. Every doctor must code every patient interaction and every procedure, and the code triggers a specific billing amount. The care that doctors can give patients is governed by these codes and standard-of-care protocols rather than the heuristics an experienced doctor uses to treat individual patients in individual circumstances.

Perverse incentives: Out of the regulatory bureaucracy comes a cascade of perverse incentives. The billing code system leads to one of them: hospitals and doctors will lean towards treatments and billing codes that result in the best billing and revenue outcome for them, rather than what is best for the patient. Similarly, with the fee-for-service model of the Affordable Health Care Act, there’s always the incentive to provide the service or procedure that generates the best fee.

Financial Engineering: The worst financial engineering of the medical care system is the tying of health insurance to employment, and the general misuse, misunderstanding and mispricing of insurance that results. Insurance is appropriate for classes of events (like car accidents or house fires) which are known to have distributed incidence but unknown in terms of where and when they will take place. Individuals pay into an insurance pool that can be drawn on when an unlucky individual encounters an incident; we all hope we will never have to draw on it. In health care insurance, individuals pay for coverage which they know they will draw on. They expect insurance to pay for routine things they should really pay for out of individual income or savings. Medical insurance coverage is appropriate for rare or catastrophic events, but not for everyday health maintenance. In fact, insurance totally obscures the market for health care.

The combined result of all these forces is the elimination of economics from medical care.

No free market: Medical care is the epitome of interventionism. There are no unregulated voluntary exchanges between buyer and seller, in this case patient and doctor. Every interaction is regulated, bureaucratized, coded, and distorted by financial engineering. Most importantly, there is no free market pricing. Prices are the indispensable signaling and information exchange mechanisms of markets; when they are suppressed, markets can’t function. The medical care system is, as Joe Matarese puts it, price-less.

No entrepreneurship: The function that solves consumer problems in markets is entrepreneurship. Entrepreneurs identify customer dissatisfactions and devise and present solutions for consumers to choose from. Entrepreneurship can’t operate in regulated healthcare. It is suppressed. Joe pointed out that, in the few corners where an entrepreneurial breakout has occurred — he mentioned medical tourism, Lasik eye surgery, cosmetic surgery, and The Surgery Center Of Oklahoma (SurgeryCenterOK.com) — prices have been lowered, quality increased and value spread wider and wider in the market, reaching more and more consumers.

Repressed Innovation: A major output of freely priced entrepreneurial markets is innovation. Entrepreneurs bring improvement in the form of new services and offerings, improved processes, and the application of new scientific discoveries. The innovation process is highly repressed in US Health Care, as in, for example, the FDA’s long and arduous bureaucratic process for approving new drugs resulting in delays in their adoption costing millions of lives.

Replacing the free market is an edifice of massive, plodding, constraining entities.

The top of the monstrous pile can probably be assigned to Big Pharma. The massive amount of funds flowing through the pharmaceutical companies empowers their commandeering of the medical community. Government healthcare agencies such as CMS, FDA and VA take up their entwined cronyist positions related to Big Pharma and Big Hospitals. Big Insurance is the financial engineering for the edifice. The bureaucracy regulates them all, but from a position of having been captured through the lobbying process. The patient sits at the bottom of this stack, squeezed by its weight, restricted by its rules, and constrained from receiving individualized care even though doctors and nurses are capable of providing it.

The COVID-19 experience was an instance of the negative consequences of regulated, bureaucratic, perversely incentivized and politicized medical care.

The standard four pillars of a medical response to the COVID-19 pandemic would have been:

  1. mitigation
  2. early outpatient treatment
  3. hospital treatment
  4. vaccination

Instead, we were bureaucratically and politically accelerated towards a mass vaccine solution, satisfying the perverse incentives of Big Pharma.

Mitigation could have embraced healthy lifestyles, nutraceuticals, and some stratifying of risk by patient age. Instead, it was botched with ridiculous and useless mask mandates and pointless (and damaging) lockdowns.

Early outpatient treatment for those infected would have recognized the “golden window” of outpatient treatment in the first two or three days of the case to reduce the need for later hospitalization, as documented by Dr. Serafino Fazio and others in a published paper (see Mises.org/E4B_162_Paper), with drugs like ivermectin and hydroxychloroquine, but these were ridiculed, and their use repressed. By the time hospital treatment is needed, the condition has changed from one of inflammation and clotting to pneumonia and lung infection, with potentially worse outcomes. The use of remdesivir was centrally authorized, and this drug is much more expensive and risks worse side effects than the early treatment drugs.

The four pillars were abandoned for the centrally planned decision of mass vaccination.

There is a pathway out of medical tyranny.

Principles of Austrian economics can help us find the way out of the current situation. Some of the principles we might apply include:

Let free markets operate: The medical care edifice refutes and represses free markets and market pricing. The first step in a solution is to restore markets to medical care.

Customer sovereignty: Markets are built around the consumer as “the captain of the ship”, determining the purpose and direction of the voyage. Consumers would exercise their sovereignty in a one-on-one relationship with their primary care physician.

Decentralization: Decisions in markets are made close to the customer and not via centralized bureaucracies.

Network versus hierarchy: Austrian economics views markets as networks of specialized nodes connected by 2-way information flows and provider-consumer interactions. The medical care edifice is a hierarchy not network.

In Part 2 of “Entrepreneurial Solutions to Medical Tyranny,” Joe Materese will identify some specific ways that we can build a parallel system outside the edifice to bring back consumer sovereignty and free markets.

Additional Resource

“Entrepreneurial Solutions to Medical Tyranny” (PDF): Mises.org/E4B_162_PDF

Medicus Healthcare Solutions: MedicusHCS.com