Wednesday, September 9, 2009

Both Sarah Palin and Newt Gingrich Speak Out On Health Care, But Only Gingrich Talks About Serious Medicine

Both Sarah Palin and Newt Gingrich wrote noteworthy articles about health care, appearing earlier today. Both made effective points about the shortcomings of Obamacare, but Palin stopped there.

By contrast, Gingrich went further--much further, in a constructive and necessary direction. The Speaker of the House-turned-better-health champion reminded his readers that the purpose of health care, and "health care policy," is health. More to the point, it's cures. And that takes heavy research--Serious Medicine.

Saving money is important, personal autonomy is important, and eliminating waste is important, but at a time when you are seriously sick, what's most important is getting treated. And the treatment that you need has to exist. That is to say, the creation of cures is not just a function of consumer demand, it's a function of long-term thinking, done years in advance. Who does such long-term thinking? It can be a variety of people and institutions, including entrepreneurs and corporations, but also philanthropists, researchers, scientists, visionaries, and various quasi-governmental folks in medical schools, research institutes, etc. And yes, obviously, the government. Think NIH, CDC, etc. That's the way we do medical R&D in America, and it's not likely to change any time soon. Gingrich is intimately familiar with those issues, which he has always emphasized, over the 30+ years of his public career.

So while Palin's piece is interesting--and it's good to hear her voice in the current debate--but when the recently resigned Alaska governor gets down to what she is for, policy-wise, she lists policy prescriptions that generally revolve around consumer choice and financing. Which is to say, she doesn't deal with Serious Medicine.

And some of her ideas--mostly from the Cato Institute playbook--are extremely controversial. For example, "Medicare vouchers." Space doesn't permit a full discussion of that idea, but I would hate to defend that idea in front of a group of senior citizens, and/or caregivers for seniors, and I suspect that 90 percent of elected Republican officials would agree.

Here's the excerpt from her WSJ article, below:

Instead of poll-driven "solutions," let's talk about real health-care reform: market-oriented, patient-centered, and result-driven. As the Cato Institute's Michael Cannon and others have argued, such policies include giving all individuals the same tax benefits received by those who get coverage through their employers; providing Medicare recipients with vouchers that allow them to purchase their own coverage; reforming tort laws to potentially save billions each year in wasteful spending; and changing costly state regulations to allow people to buy insurance across state lines. Rather than another top-down government plan, let's give Americans control over their own health care.

Meanwhile, Gingrich, in his piece for Human Events, went through a useful checklist of things to watch for in the Obama speech. It's all sensible stuff, although tellingly, he makes no mention of Medicare vouchers. Politics is, after all, the art of the possible, and at a time when Democrats are under fire for wanting to make radical changes in health care, this is probably not the time for Republicans to put forth radical changes, either.

And here's the most important test question of all in Gingrich's piece:

#10 Does his plan invest in science and technology in order to increase innovation and accelerate the discovery and adoption of new discoveries and breakthroughs in diseases such as Alzheimer's, cancer and diabetes?

Let's keep our eye on the ball, fans of Serious Medicine. Serious Medicine is not about health care financing. Serious Medicine is about going all-out against illness and incapacitation. Serious Medicine is an economic good, for sure, but even more, Serious Medicine is a life goal.


  1. Excellent blog -- have read almost all the posts, and this is the first and only nit I've been compelled to pick:

    Serious Economics, properly understood, is also, like Serious Medicine, about life goals -- not finance. That's why, in Serious Economics, the concept of utility is more important than the concept of money.

    Serious Economics, properly applied, would result in the most efficient possible allocation of labor and capital toward Serious Medicine by getting rid of the market distortions created by contemporary government policy.

    Alas, government is as incapable of practicing Serious Economics as it is of practicing Serious Medicine, with Exhibit A being the tax laws that created the third party payer system.

    If now is not the time to advocate for Serious Medicine via Serious Economics, when is? Playing for a tie, with alternatives that neglect Serious Economics, is likely to lead to a loss. Thanks to the Internet, voters are smarter than ever. Having purchased less expensive music and travel on line, voters know that empowering consumers and patients with information to make their own choices will also yield the benefits of competition in Serious Medicine. Voters' leaders should be just as able to persuade voters using Serious Economics as they are using Serious Medicine.

    Distracting distinctions between economic goods and life goals detract from, er, seriousness. The Wyden bill may not be perfect, but it shows that even a liberal Democrat can practice Serious Medicine and Serious Economics at the same time. Fans of Serious Medicine should take a look at combining the Wyden, David Goldhill - - and John Mackey - ideas. That would be some Serious Economic Medicine. Or would it be Serious Medicine Economics?

  2. Yes, I agree with wat paul said!