A new report finds that medical innovation boosts life expectancy, but doesn't cost more
"About half of all growth in health care spending in the past several decades was associated with changes in medical care made possible by advances in technology," declared a Congressional Budget Office (CBO) report last year. "Health care economists attribute about 50 percent of the annual increase of health costs to new technologies or to the intensified use of old ones," writes bioethicist Daniel Callahan in his new book, Taming the Beloved Beast: How Medical Technology Costs Are Destroying Our Health Care System. Conventional wisdom holds that the nation is facing a massive health care bill thanks to our use (and potential overuse) of pricey new treatments and technology.
But is it true that expensive high-tech medicine is to blame for rising health care costs? ( Read more... )
Cost cop Callahan has a solution to the alleged problem of escalating technological costs: Adopt the methods used by European universal government-funded health care systems:"They use—among other tools—price controls, negotiated physician fees, hospital budgets with limits on expenditures, and stringent policies on the adoption and diffusion of new technologies." In other words, stifle innovation.
"Cutting the use of technology will seem wrong—even immoral—to many," Callahan admits. Well, yes. And if Lichtenberg is right, slowing technological progress in medicine wouldn't save money, but it definitely would kill more people.
Ronald Bailey is Reason magazine's science correspondent. His book Liberation Biology: The Scientific and Moral Case for the Biotech Revolution is now available from Prometheus Books.