There was a lot of talk in the recent Democratic debates about healthcare and how to fix our broken system. Unfortunately, but also Unsurprisingly, the Democrat presidential wannabees stuck to staid and vague plans which hinge on government intervention and control.
We should be frank: healthcare is voters’ number one concern and millions of Americans are struggling with high premiums, out of pocket costs and other fees when trying to afford care.
But the Democrats and many recent media reports miss the mark when considering this issue. Take recent headlines about new medicines that have overwhelmingly emphasized the cost of the treatments, without taking into account the long-term economic benefits and the lives saved by these treatments.e
For patients, these cures are invaluable.
Take, for example, a recent drug approved to treat spinal muscular atrophy (SMA), Zolgensma. The drug is a medical breakthrough; a cutting-edge, gene-therapy which is administered in one dose to infants and has so far shown to lead to dramatically improved outcomes.
SMA is one of the most common genetic diseases affecting up to 25,000 individuals in the U.S. alone, and among the most serious. Those with severe forms of the disease typically die before they turn two.
For these patients, this drug is a lifesaver. One patient with SMA, who is also an adjunct professor of economics and finance, made this case in STAT News. Nathan Yates explained the factors at play in pricing this drug and why it is a step in the right direction and potential life saver for patients. He explains:
We should not put a price tag on life, though…think about the parents who will no longer have to receive the heartbreaking news that my parents were given 29 years ago: “Your child has spinal muscular atrophy, and there’s nothing we can do. Survival beyond early childhood is unlikely.”
These are families that now have hope for not just an improved quality of life, but life at all. This drug is actually a long-term cost saver, costing less in the single treatment than the multiple years of previously existing treatments.
We see this time and again with new, breakthrough cures. For example, a new treatment for advanced lung cancer was shown to lead to five-year survival rates of 25 percent. While that may not seem significant, prior to this treatment the survival rate was five percent.
These are lives saved. This is the point of medicine.
This perspective was lost in the coverage, likely due to a renewed hyper focus from elected officials to prove to voters that they are serious about addressing healthcare costs.
This enthusiasm to show progress on addressing healthcare costs has led members of all parties to examine radical proposals. From single payer, Medicare-for-all to unelected arbiters setting prices, these proposals threaten patient access to cures as well as the robust, market forces which drives medical innovation in the U.S.
Numerous studies have shown the link between market forces and size and increases in innovation. One paper by MIT economists Daron Acemoglu and Joshua Linn showed just this, when the market for a drug grows, so too does the number of drugs entering that market. This should surprise no one. It’s simple supply and demand.
When healthcare markets adopt socialist policies, however, they reduce the demand via cost controls and rationed care. The end result is that investment into those cures, i.e. supply, is reduced, as well. This would have an immediate chilling effect, not only for U.S. patients but as well for the international medical community. The U.S. “funds about 44 percent of world medical R&D, invests 75 percent of global medical venture capital, and holds the intellectual property rights for most new medicines,” according to the White House Council of Economic Advisers. Reducing investment and innovation in the U.S. will reduce the number of cures for the entire world.
This is why headlines decrying the cost of a treatment miss the full picture. These cures are invaluable to those who will benefit from them, while, from an economic perspective, new cures shove open the door to more research and more cures, further bringing down cost.
Therefore, we must fiercely protect this market and reject policies like Medicare-for-all which will reduce research into new cures. We must think critically about healthcare costs, of course, but without losing sight of the value these cures have and the importance of innovation to future generations.
We engage in medical research to save lives. It’s time we appreciate that we’re making progress on doing just that.
Or, we could just adopt whatever it was that Marianne Williamson was talking about.