Friday, August 7, 2009
Dean Kamen: Current Policy is "Backward Looking," Spend More on Serious Medicine
Dean Kamen, the legendary inventor, has some blunt words for those who want to crunch down on medicine in the name of "controlling health care costs." Kamen holds some 440 patents, for devices ranging from the miraculous to the fabulous--first wearable infusion pump, a portable kidney dialysis machine, all sorts of prosthetic limbs, and the Segway scooter.
It's fair to say that Kamen (pictured above in one of his inventions; he himself is perfectly ambulatory, he designed that machine to help others) has done more to advance the real health of Americans, and the peoples of the world, than just about anybody alive today. And yet he is not judged to be a "player" in health care matters.
And so it is unfortunate that Kamen's warnings about the current direction of health care policy probably won't get that much attention, because of the venue he chose: He shared them with Popular Mechanics, a publication that is not exactly a must-read for either "health care policy" experts or politicians.
Why is Popular Mechanics outside of this select circle? For reasons that perhaps C.P. Snow best explained in his 1959 speech-turned-into-book, The Two Cultures. A half century ago, Snow observed that literature and science have separated from each other, to the disadvantage of both--and to the bigger disadvantage of the rest of us.
Today, strange as it might seem, "health care policy" owes more to literature--political literature, with an infusion of politicized economics--than it does to bench science, or bedside medicine. That is, the politicking and chattering classes are more interested in political science than they are in biological science. And while this might make some casual sense, it makes less sense upon future reflection, because to real people, dry health care policy is less important than the "blood and guts" of doctoring and medicine. In the end, what matters in a life-and-death situation is not what a politician says or does, but what gets invented, or not, what gets treated, or not, and what gets healed, or not.
Here are some excerpts of Kamen's PM interview, as selected by Reuters' always alert James Pethokoukis:
We now live in a world where technology has triumphed, in many ways, over death. The problem with that is that it’s enormously expensive. And big pharmaceutical giants and big medical products companies have stopped working on stuff that could be extraordinary because they know they won’t be reimbursed, according to the common standards. We’re not only rationing today; we’re rationing our future.
If you project forward these horrific costs of treating everybody and you want to assume we are not going to respond to that by making the therapies better, simpler and cheaper and in some cases completely wiping out the [diseases], well you know what? We might actually get to that situation—if we stop investing in technology, if we stop believing that the future ought to be better than the past.
If somebody in this country wants to explain to me that we ought to be spending about twice as much supporting sports as on all of our pharmaceuticals, then stop spending.
I think this debate shows a fundamental lack of vision, a lack of confidence, a lack of understanding of what’s possible.
Kamen doesn't use the words, but he makes the case for a Serious Medicine Strategy. It's too bad that more people in DC won't know about it.
UPDATE: The Health Care Blog, a must-read for health care types, picks up on Kamen.
Posted by James P. Pinkerton at 6:23 PM