Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Health Care

Throughout the national debate about health care reform I've had mixed feeling about the whole thing. Having read a number articles from various newspapers and magazines have all been about the same. I've been craving a more nuanced view on the whole subject. I found it while perusing the November edition of Popular Mechanics.

I found the following interview with Dean Kamen. He is the inventor responsible for the Segway and a mobile dialysis machine to name a few. Here is the segment of the interview pertaining to healthcare (click here for the full article):

PM: What’s your opinion of the debate over healthcare?

DK: I’m very worried that the entire debate is misguided. I mean the whole supposition: “We have a crisis in healthcare.” Our healthcare system is developing incredible devices to improve the quality of people’s lives. We’re developing pharmaceuticals that alleviate the need for surgery. We’re making the surgeries that are necessary ever less invasive. If we have a crisis, it’s the embarrassment of riches.

PM: But how about rising costs and concerns about healthcare being rationed?

DK: Each side of this debate has created the boogeyman and monsters like “We don’t want to let this program 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.Of course we ration today.

PM: So what’s the answer?

DK: The way to ration less is to make more good technical solutions. Diabetes alone, if you include all of the long-term, insidious consequences, is responsible for about 30 percent of the federal reimbursement for healthcare. But what if tomorrow we could wipe out diabetes? I’m sure in 1920 if you asked actuaries to say what percentage of our GDP are we going to spend taking care of people with polio, they’d say: “They’ll sit in iron-lung machines their whole lives with three people watching over them. We can’t support them all.” But what did it actually cost to deal with polio? Oh, $2 apiece. We gave them the Salk vaccine.

If you want to sit here today and project forward these horrific costs of treating everybody and you want to assume we are not going to make therapies and cures better, simpler and cheaper, well, you know what? We might actually get to that being the situation—if we stop investing in technology, if we stop believing that the future ought to be better than the past. I think this debate shows a fundamental lack of vision, a lack of understanding of what’s possible.

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