The healthcare sector is one of the largest and most complex in the U.S. economy, accounting for close to a fifth of overall gross domestic product (GDP). The U.S. healthcare sector benefits from a strong system of medical research and development, in cooperation with the higher education system and the technology industry. The aging U.S. population and the advancing senescence of the Baby Boomer generation are driving ongoing strong demand in the healthcare sector.
Economically, healthcare markets are marked by a few distinct factors. Government intervention in healthcare markets and activities is pervasive, in part due to some of these economic factors. Demand for healthcare services is highly price inelastic. Consumers and producers face inherent uncertainties regarding needs, outcomes, and the costs of services. Patients, providers, and other industry players possess widely asymmetric information and principal-agent problems are ubiquitous. Major barriers to entry exist in the form of professional licensure, regulation, intellectual property protections, specialized expertise, research and development costs, and natural economies of scale. Consumption (or non-consumption) and production of medical services can involve significant externalities, particularly regarding infectious disease. Transactions costs are high in both the provision of care and the coordination of care.