Making Markets in Long-Term Care: Or How a Market Can Work by Being Invisible

Health Care Analysis 25 (3):242-259 (2017)

Abstract

Many Western countries have introduced market principles in healthcare. The newly introduced financial instrument of “care-intensity packages” in the Dutch long-term care sector fit this development since they have some characteristics of a market device. However, policy makers and care providers positioned these instruments as explicitly not belonging to the general trend of marketisation in healthcare. Using a qualitative case study approach, we study the work that the two providers have done to fit these instruments to their organisations and how that enables and legitimatises market development. Both providers have done various types of work that could be classified as market development, including creating accounting systems suitable for markets, redefining public values in the context of markets, and starting commercial initiatives. Paradoxically, denying the existence of markets for long-term care and thus avoiding ideological debates on the marketisation of healthcare has made the use of market devices all the more likely. Making the market invisible seems to be an operative element in making the market work. Our findings suggest that Dutch long-term care reform points to the need to study the ‘making’ rather than the ‘liberalising’ of markets and that the study of healthcare markets should not be confined to those practices that explicitly label themselves as such.

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