The coronavirus pandemic should change the way we address the American health care crisis. It may force us to face the hard facts.

The Gazette has warned for years that our problem with overpriced health care begins with a supply that does not meet demand. High insurance premiums, deductibles, co-pays, out-of-wallet prices, and extended waits ration the dearth of care, drugs, and equipment. Third-party pay arrangments, regulatory barriers to entry and other disrupters of market forces leave us with a system that underserves the public.

For decades, politicians have addressed the health care sector's shortcomings by offering coverage. They create or propose government-provided and quasi-governmental insurance plans and regulations designed to help people pay for access to health care. In doing so, they increase demand on the system while doing nothing — they don’t even bother with lip service — to address the increasingly inadequate supply of doctors, nurses, hospitals and clinics needed to meet robust and diverse consumer needs.

Consider the grocery store. Demand for shelf-stable food, cleaning supplies, and paper products has spiked with concerns about the pandemic. Shoppers with limited access to high-demand products. Stores are rationing purchases of select short-supply items to one per customer. The supply-demand equilibrium is out of kilter.

Imagine politicians promising to improve access to bleach wipes, tissue, and large bags of rice. To do so, following their health care protocol, they would guarantee access to these goods with policies written on paper. Consumers would be “covered” with promises of access to the supplies they need. There’s one big problem. The policies don’t put supplies on bare shelves. People with coverage are told to wait a few weeks and try again, regardless of anything politicians promised them.

The pandemic makes obvious the delicate nature of the supply chain. An equally obvious example of our health care system’s limited capacity is likely to ensue as the virus spreads.

Colorado Gov. Jared Polis warns of a looming “catastrophic overload” on Colorado’s health care system. New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo, other political leaders, and health care professionals have issued similar warnings.

While neglecting supply concerns, politicians have reliably helped a handful of major health care providers avoid competition with regulatory barriers. Former Gov. John Hickenlooper, a candidate for the United States Senate, openly advocates for “Certificate of Need” laws. CON laws prevent the establishment or expansion of health care facilities without government permission. Obtaining a green light involves years of fighting through mounds of red tape. Investors and entrepreneurs must prove to bureaucrats the "need" for more health care before proceeding.

Colorado Attorney General Phil Weiser, working in the Antitrust Division of the U.S. Department of Justice in 2010, blasted Certificate of Need laws as barriers to an adequate supply of health care. He compares those regulations and others that obstruct growth to “protectionist” rackets misrepresented as consumer protections.

Because politicians impede new hospitals, clinics, and medical equipment we have an inadequate supply of all of the above. If we don’t curtail the virus, this will become no less visible — though far more serious — than empty toilet paper shelves.

To put the care shortage in perspective, consider that Japan has 13.5 hospital beds per 1,000 residents. South Korea has 12.27; Russia 8.05 and China 4.34.

By contrast, the U.S. health care system provides fewer than three hospital beds for every 1,000 residents while other American market sectors typically produce surplus services and goods. The U.S. ranks 32nd among countries in terms of hospital beds relative to the population.

The coronavirus will find and highlight our nation’s weaknesses, including our worsening scarcity of health care. Politicians need to stop throwing coverage at consumers while ignoring — even exacerbating — the real capacity shortfall. We may be in for a hard, overdue lesson about the need to expand our health care system with more facilities, providers, drugs, and equipment. To fix the problem, politicians must incentivize competition and growth and get government out of the way.

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