Expressing the Value of Our Health Care


John Tierney makes an important point on Instapundit.  Attempting to put European-style price controls on medicine will put the brakes on American-style innovation.  He suggests that higher life expectancy in other countries has to do with lower rates of “poverty, obesity, smoking, homicide, fatal accidents and other factors,” not with an inability to afford health care.  Meanwhile:

The gap would be even larger if it weren’t for the fact that Americans receive better health care, particularly for heart disease and cancer. And the chief reason that American patients fare better than European patients is that they get earlier access to more new drugs. A dollar spent on drugs does more to combat disease and disability than a dollar spent anywhere else.

Yes, Canadians and Europeans pay less at the pharmacy, but they’re getting what they pay for. Why would Trump want to copy them? He should look at the numbers. Americans already get a much better deal.

I know somebody with a rare genetic disease with significant relevance to life expectancy.  Until very recently, the only options were to treat the symptoms, but innovative drugs under continual development in the United States are beginning to correct the behavior of DNA and reduce the effects of the disease at their source.  My understanding is that the latest iteration of these drugs has a sticker price above $400,000 per year, but his OK health insurance brings the price into the low thousands.  In other countries (including those with single-payer health care), these drugs simply aren’t available.

With the combination of all of his drugs and treatments, this person easily hits his deductible and (some years) out-of-pocket maximum, but think of what he’s receiving.  Americans will pay for cell phones, game consoles, vacations, artisanal beer, vacations, large homes, and on and on, yet somehow we’ve been sold on this notion that the thing on which we tend to place the most value — our health — shouldn’t require us to express that value as money.

That is the opposite of the solution.  What we need is more openness about prices so Americans can decide what spending is worthwhile compared with their other activities and individual flexibility so unrelated decisions, such as employment, aren’t necessary parts of the equation.  The inability of some people to afford health care, even if they were to eliminate basic necessities, is a problem to resolve, but not by putting government restraints on the market.  Rather the solution for those folks is a mix of a stronger economy with more opportunity, charitable enterprise, and government assistance.