Thursday, June 4, 2009

Killing Medical Innovation

In the June 1, 2009 Wall Street Journal, Tevi Troy warns that the push towards government-run "universal health care" will strangle the sorts of medical innovation that we currently take for granted.

Here are a few excerpts:
The End of Medical Miracles?

...Scientific discoveries are neither inevitable nor predictable. What is more, they are affected, especially in our time, by forces outside the laboratory—in particular, the actions of politicians and government bureaucracies.

...The conduct of the businesses that had been responsible for almost every medical innovation from which Americans and the world had benefited for decades became intensely controversial in the 1990s. An odd inversion came into play. Since the work they did was life-saving or life-enhancing, it was not deemed by a certain liberal mindset to be of special value, worth the expense. Rather, medical treatment came to be considered a human right to which universal access was required without regard to cost. Because people needed these goods so much, it was unscrupulous or greedy to involve the profit principle in them. What mattered most was equity. Consumers of health care should not have to be subject to market forces.

...Attempts to universalize our system and pay for it with cost controls that could stifle innovation contradict their own goal, which is, presumably, better health. It also embraces the notion that you can get something for nothing—namely, that you can get innovative new discoveries and better health outcomes somehow without paying for these discoveries to come into being.

We forget the power of the single-celled organism. For most of man's existence on earth, the power of a single-celled animal to snuff out life was an accepted—and tragic—way of the world. Human beings could be wiped out in vast communicable plagues or simple through ingesting food or water. In the last century, the advent of the antibiotic has changed all that. For millennia, the only cure for an infection in humans was hope. Today, antibiotic use is so common that public health officials struggle to get people not to overuse antibiotics and thereby diminish their effectiveness.
There a reason that the US is the center of medical innovation in the world (see note #10), rather than the socialized medical systems of Canada and Europe. Hence, patients in those countries rely on advances developed in the US for new life-saving drugs and technology.

If the US moves towards a European-style health system, then there will be no other country to provide Americans with the current level of innovation that we now enjoy. Is that what we want?