In addition to exporting patients, we could import doctors. Politically speaking, of course, this all seems improbable, because the medical industry is a powerful lobby and uninterested in competition. But the reality is that, unless we find some other way to rein in health-care costs, the logic of free trade in medicine is going to become harder to resist.
Surowiecki seems shocked to find that there is rent-seeking in health care policy. In fact, it is possible to view all of health care policy in such terms.
Food stamps are nominally an anti-poverty program; they also can be viewed as an agricultural income program.
Similarly, health insurance is nominally about health care; but it also can be viewed as a doctor income program. Almost ten years ago, I wrote this [looks like that link is broken. The new one is here]:
An equivalent plan for restaurant meals would be that instead of paying for your meal, you would pay an annual premium to "Blue Eats," which would in turn reimburse restaurants for their costs, plus a profit margin. Every individual member of "Blue Eats" would have an incentive to eat out a lot and order the most expensive items on the menu, because the cost is shared among all of the members of "Blue Eats."
It was inevitable that the Blue Cross model would be supported by and adopted as government policy. The economic absurdity of it would never last in a free market. But as rent-seeking it works really well.
Somewhat related: John Goodman on the role of health insurance in inflating health care costs. But, of course, if my view is correct, the whole point of what we call health insurance. I am not saying that health insurance (meaning catastrophic insurance) is undesirable. I am saying, and I have said many times that what we call health insurance has little to do with insurance.