But when I read Dean Kamen's interview from the upcoming Popular Mechanics issue, I had to chuckle, because for me he nailed it:
Well, I mean the whole supposition that "We have a crisis in healthcare." Our healthcare system has seen some of the greatest achievements of the human intellect since we started recording history: We're developing incredible devices and implantables to improve the quantity and quality of people's lives. We're developing pharmaceuticals that alleviate the need for surgery and eliminate the volatile effects of diseases. We're making the surgeries that are necessary ever less invasive. You can get a stent through your femoral artery all the way up into your heart and fix a blockage without surgery. I'd say, if we have a crisis, it's the embarrassment of riches. Nobody wants to deal with the fact that we're no longer in a world where you can simply give everybody all the healthcare that is available.
Each side of this debate has created the boogieman and monsters, like "We don't want let this program to come into existence because that will mean rationing." Well, I hate to tell you the news but as soon as medicine started being able to do incredible things that are very expensive, we started rationing. The reason 100 years ago everyone could afford their healthcare is because "healthcare" was a doctor giving you some elixir and telling you you'll be fine. And if it was a cold you would be fine. And if it turns out it was consumption; it was tuberculosis; it was lung cancer—you could still sit there. He'd give you some sympathy, and you'd die. Either way, it's pretty cheap.
We now live in a world where technology has triumphed, in many ways, over death. The problem with that is that it's enormously expensive. And big pharmaceutical giants and big medical products companies have stopped working on stuff that could be extraordinary because they know they won't be reimbursed, according to the common standards. We're not only rationing today; we're rationing our future.
He goes on to suggest that a nationalized health care system is fraught with one especial danger: it will deincentivize innovation. If there is no (or less) private channels for profit, then there is less incentive for genius innovators to develop new drugs that would make them rich:
Whatever the marketplace, if talented people are given resources they're going to keep driving us to having better, simpler, cheaper solutions to problems. And, by the way, if they come up with a better solution but it can't be cheaper—which, in the beginning, most things aren't—nobody says you have to buy it. If you think this new drug is too expensive, it's not a good deal, we have a crisis, buy the old one. It's a generic now. It's cheap.
You can't look at the problem and say, "I want them to do more, better, faster miracles—and not invest in research, not invest in development, and have those miracles delivered to me free." It's unrealistic. And people know that about most things. They do. Nobody expects that just because they've made computers better they're going to give them to you free.
The problem he is driving at, I would submit, is that in the health care industry, and actually in all "cutting-edge" technology industries, socialism drives directly against innovation. Socialized health care may seem to enable larger numbers of people access to basic healthcare, but in fact by doing so, it removes the interest for private companies to develop expensive, novel solutions that are initially only affordable to the wealthy.
Let me put it this way: if I develop a powered suit that enables people to have super strength, but it costs 1 billion dollars a piece, then only a tiny handful of people will be able to afford it. But those people's money will provide the profit incentive I need to develop the suit in the first place. Then, seven years after I invent my suit, the patent runs out and 50 companies make cheaper versions of the suit that almost everyone can afford. This is how healthcare works now.
In a socialized health care system, the government would tell me that I had to sell my suit at a price everyone could afford. Because of this, I would either build a pathetic, unimaginative powered suit, or not bother designing the suit at all.
In this scenario, everyone gets access to the existing powered suit technologies, but future technology development has been impeded by "equality."
Kamen puts it this in health care terms:
Every drug that's made is a gift from one generation to the next because, while it may be expensive now, it goes off patent and your kids will have it essentially for free.
Remember when the HIV cocktail was 15 grand a month? Now it's on the order of $350...that's 42 times cheaper.
Look, the bottom line is this: although from an ethical standpoint, universal health care may be a great idea. From a cost standpoint, I can imagine that universal health care might be a great idea. But from a health standpoint, any sort of government run health care program will inevitably decrease the quality of care for patients in this country.
"But TAE, socialized health care works great in Europe and Canada!" says the educated dissenter. To which I humbly submit that the FDA does a way better job of safeguarding us from dangerous drugs than its European counterpart. American doctors, as I understand it, are better trained (oh and they get paid a lot more) than their European conterparts. The cost of the U.S. health care system in part is due to the expensive costs of innovation but most major medical innovations since 1920 have been discovered in the United States where privatized health care has boldly lingered on. And in this case, I believe correlation is causation.