Wednesday, July 29, 2009

National Health Care and Innovation?

Will nationalized health care promote innovation in medical treatments?  Will it at least not slow it down?  Curunir at Distributed Republic doesn't think so.

Megan McArdle has a very long, very good post about why she opposes national health care. In a nutshell, she thinks it would have a deleterious effect on innovation. I agree with her, but here's a simpler "proof" of why I think she's correct: How many times does Obama (or any other supporter for that matter) mention improvements in innovation as a motivation for health care reform?

Politicians, generally speaking, will promise that any particular program will deliver a cornucopia of riches if there is any remotely plausible rationale. So if they fail to mention a potential benefit, it's either because (1) there's no good argument for it, or (2) they think the public doesn't care.

(2) strikes me as possible, but pretty unlikely. Although a depressing number of comments on McArdle's post take an extraordinarily blase attitude towards the importance of new medicine, I still think most Americans see the potential benefits of innovation. Think back to the embryonic stem cell debates. How many times did politicians trump them as the cure for virtually any disease you can think of? At least in that context, the public seemed to care a great deal about curing Parkinson's.

So I think we're left with (1). I think people can, and do, make reasonable arguments about why national health care would be cost saving, and more short-run efficient (I believe those arguments are wrong, but not self-evidently stupid). But the arguments that it wouldn't harm innovation mostly amount to some handwaving about the NIH and the evils of pharma advertising.

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