A window into the future of our medical technology

A gas leak in the Amuary oil refinery in Venezuela caused a massive explosion that killed twenty-four people and injuerd eighty more people.  An oil union leader, Jose Bodas, said that the refinery was the result of inadequate maintenance.  The refinery was built in 1949 (Wiki).

Now, I can hear the questions – bridget, what on earth does this have to do with health care law?

Running an old, outdated oil refinery is more dangerous than running a new refinery with up-to-date technology and modern safety standards.  For over a hundred people, 1940s-era safety standards and (perhaps) routine maintenance weren’t enough.  We can, in 2012, look and say, “Hey, maybe that thing should have been overhauled, or rebuilt, sometime in the last couple of decades.”  That’s the window into the future of medical technology.  ObamaCare imposes a 2.3% tax on the sales (not profits) of all medical devices.  This will discourage innovation as medical companies will divert their money away from research and development and into taxation, and will also discourage investors and scientists, who will have the opportunity to put their money and talent into industries that are not subject to the tax – even if those industries are less beneficial to society.  (I call this the “Viagra Effect”: less socially beneficial drugs, devices, and professions are not as subject to well-meaning cost and profit regulation, and thus are the likeliest candidates for research, development, and talent.)

Unfortunately, people do not miss what they never knew they could have, but do crave what they think they deserve.  Thus, in the interests of making current technology accessible right now to everyone, we are strangling future innovation.  The irony is that expensive, patented technology will come down in price as it goes off-patent; the natural course of economic systems will make these things more affordable.  Medical innovation, however, is not a given nor a natural right.  We are starting to see what happens when broken-down, outdated energy systems are used in the twenty-first century; as Dr. Paul Hsieh says,

“For most doctors, using 1998 medical technology to treat brain tumors in 2012 would border on malpractice. When you need advanced medical care in 2022, don’t let the government’s war on medical innovation restrict your doctor to today’s 2012 technology.”

My final comment is that using current technology in the future is worse than using it today: many bacteria and viruses are becoming resistant to our drugs.

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Filed under Economics, Miscellanea, ObamaCare

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