U.S. still leader in medical innovation

The "American health care system may be performing better than it seems at first glance" because the U.S. "is the world leader" in medical innovations, which "improve health and life expectancy in all wealthy countries," Tyler Cowen, a professor of economics at George Mason University, writes in a New York Times opinion piece.

According to Cowen, supporters of a national health care system cite the fact that, although the U.S. "spends more of its gross domestic product on health care than any nation in the world," U.S. residents "do not live longer than Western Europeans or Japanese."

However, Cowen writes that this "apparently devastating fact" does not account for the 15 Nobel Prizes in medicine that U.S. scientists and foreign-born scientists who work in the U.S. have received or the development of some of the "most important medical innovations of the last 25 years" by U.S. hospitals or companies.

He adds that "[e]ven when the initial research is done overseas, the American system leads in converting new ideas into workable commercial technologies."

This "innovation-rich environment stems from the money spent on American health care and also from the richer and more competitive American universities," and the "gains from medical innovations are high," Cowen writes.

The U.S. "could use its size, or use the law, to bargain down health care prices, as many European governments have done," Cowen writes, adding, "In the short run, this would save money but in the longer run it would cost lives."

He concludes, "The American health care system, high expenditures and all, is driving innovation for the entire world" (Cowen, New York Times, 10/5).

Kaisernetwork.orgThis article is republished with kind permission from our friends at the The Kaiser Family Foundation. You can view the entire Kaiser Daily Health Policy Report, search the archives, or sign up for email delivery of in-depth coverage of health policy developments, debates and discussions. The Kaiser Daily Health Policy Report is published for Kaisernetwork.org, a free service of The Henry J. Kaiser Family Foundation. Copyright 2006 Advisory Board Company and Kaiser Family Foundation. All rights reserved.

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