A Healthy Blog

Massachusetts health care — wonky, with a healthy dose of reality

Would Universal Health Care Strangle Innovation?

Would Universal Health Care Strangle Innovation?

November 14, 2007

Lots of buzz in the blogosphere on Jonathan Cohn's thought provoking New Republic article -- Creative Destruction: The Best Case Against Universal Health Care. Cohn wonders if his friend, writer Michael Kinsley, who suffers from Parkinson's Disease, would have access to the best treatment (in this case, DBS or Deep Brain Stimulation) in a fully government financed system. And would an all government financed system strangle innovation? Cohn's answer: no problema.

So what, then, would have happened to my friend Mike Kinsley if such a system had been in place here? From the looks of things, exactly what has happened already: He would have gotten the DBS treatment. Nearly every country in Europe covers DBS under its national health insurance system, even England with its famously low spending and scrutiny of new treatments. People over 70 can't always get the treatment in those countries, but, in part, that's because many physicians believe it's not usually worth the risks at that age. (And they may be right, depending on which studies you believe.) Medicare, meanwhile, also covers it, making it available to all of this country's elderly. Working-age Americans, on the other hand, may face some obstacles: According to Medtronic, private insurers occasionally deny coverage--to say nothing of those people who don't have insurance at all. DBS is just one example, to be sure, but it seems to be emblematic of the truth about universal health insurance: You don't have to choose between universal access and innovation. It's possible to have both--as long as you do it right.