Friday, March 19, 2010
Two Visions of Healthcare: One Political, One Medical. Unfortunately, Obamacare Beats Out Treatment for Tremors and Epilepsy.
Last night on ABC World News, we saw, once again, the divide between two visions of healthcare. One, healthcare as a political football, and two, healthcare as a life-enhancing, even life-saving undertaking of doctors and scientists.
Alas, the politicos got top billing. Diane Sawyer led the newscast with a live report from Jon Karl, on the vote count for Obamacare. All the discussion, of course, was about the politics of Obamacare, whether or not it has the votes. And for all the talk of "healthcare," not a word about health.
And then, 20 minutes into Thursday night's broadcast, ABC News' medical editor,Dr. Richard Besser, introduced a beautiful story of a medical miracle taking place in Minnesota, where Roger Frisch, a concert violinist with the Minneapolis Orchestra, has had his ability to play the violin restored to him. As Besser explained, "essential tremors," based on faulty brain activity, cause tremors in one-seventh of senior citizens, or 10 million Americans nationwide. And so doctors at the Mayo Clinic conducted deep brain stimulus surgery, drilling holes in Frisch's head, allowing electrodes to thwart the tremors. Not an ideal solution, of course--medicine is better, when it works--but the therapy has restored Frisch's ability to play the violin--see screen grab above. And, Dr. Besser added, a similar procedure--the use of a pacemaker-like device for the brain--developed at Stanford can dramatically reduce epileptic seizures.
So which is more important to our ultimate health? An insurance card that says we can visit a doctor--or a cure from that same doctor?
And yet if the healthcare bill passes, and policymakers decide to really "bend the curve," on healthcare costs, will procedures such as the one Dr. Besser described be judged as too expensive? How will the Congressional Budget Office score the gift of a life restored? If it doesn't score positively, according to CBO metrics, then chances are, we will see a lot fewer of these sort of heroic medical interventions, no matter how successful they are.
But of course, such concerns will be lost amidst the high-five-ing to come in Washington DC, if the bill passes. Why worry about brain disorders and epilepsy when you can ration care?
Posted by James P. Pinkerton at 12:30 PM