9.24.2009

Innovate or Die


Whether on Facebook, in town halls, or even in the esteemed halls of Congress, discussion of health care reform can turn ugly. So perhaps I am unnecessarily inviting heckling by chiming in with more of my own, under-informed opinion. But I wanted to link to a nice interview in Popular Mechanics of Dean Kamen. You know him as Segway guy, but he holds 440 patents in total in a number of fields, including those that intersect with health care. He contests the notion that we have a cost problem in health care; rather, instead of fussing about cost, we should be encouraging innovation.

Of course, I am absolutely for this line of thinking. Consider what killed us barely a few generations ago that can now be treated with a single pill, injection, or routine surgical procedure. Today’s really expensive drugs that would only be available to the very rich if we all paid out of pocket are tomorrow’s really cheap drugs that can be available to practically anyone. What automatically kills or paralyzes us now could be spoken of with a laugh someday, as we easily beat it and enjoy longer and better lives as a result.

But that only happens if innovation is encouraged and not stifled: if the government’s essential role in basic research isn’t undercut by cuts, if makers of pharmaceuticals and surgical procedures and medical devices aren’t vilified as cold-hearted profit-seekers, if more people are encouraged to take a big swing because the threat of high risk is offset by the opportunity of high return.

I know I am simplifying a fantastically complicated topic. But what if leveling access to life-enhancing health care resources is not at odds with people and companies making a boatload of money. Rather, what if one necessarily happens because of the other? If framed in this way, might there be less shouting, and a path to a government role that gets us everything everyone wants? I hope we get this right; I can't wait for my grandkids to incredulously ask me, "You mean people used to die of cancer?"

PS On a personal note, check out this latest advance in finding a cure for paralysis: "Paralyzed Rats Walk Again."
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