Sunday, September 26, 2004

Health care costs & technology.

Article worth reading from today's "Week in Review" section of the N.Y. Times: "Health Care Costs Are a Killer, but Maybe That's a Plus," by Steve Lohr. The message: even after we've squeezed out the 10-20% of health care costs attributable to inefficiencies and waste, you can expect health care costs to continue to spiral upward. Electronic medical records, computerized prescriptions, and automated billing systems (all of which will require the investments of billions of dollars in new hardware and software infrastructure), will help reduce the mountains of paper records, lost files, incorrect billing codes, etc., but it will do nothing for our (understandable, even justifiable) taste for high-tech medicine.

"High-tech" doesn't only mean coated coronary artery stents (at $2500 apiece, compared to $1000 for the uncoated variety) and wondrously noninvasive 3-D imaging devices. It also includes the deceptively simple drug delivery devices -- the pill and the capsule -- that get ever more effective pharmaceuticals into our bloodstream. Big Pharm has its critics (including me), but there's little debate over the contribution made by drug companies to the quality and longevity of human existence:

In a working paper for the National Bureau of Economic Research, a nonprofit research group, Frank Lichtenberg, an economist at Columbia University's business school, has concluded that 40 percent of the increased longevity in 52 countries over the last 20 years can be attributed to new drugs. The cost in pharmaceuticals for an extra year of life was on average $5,000 a person, according to his research.

"In general, the benefits of new drugs outweigh the costs by a substantial margin," Mr. Lichtenberg said.

One point not made by the article, but worth considering: Not only do these advances not come cheap. But added years of life mean added years of consuming health care technologies and services. Our successes, in other words, contribute to the ever higher bills we pay as a country.
posted by tommayo, 11:46 AM

Health care law (including public health law, medical ethics, and life sciences), with digressions into constitutional law, poetry, and other things that matter