TCS Daily

Poor Diagnosis, Poor Medical Advice

By Donald R. May - November 5, 2004 12:00 AM

Our free market supplies consumers with an ever-widening and ever-improving variety of goods and services. Health care is no exception. As a result, our lives are almost twice as long, healthier and more productive than those who lived a century ago. Yet, it seems like we are constantly in a battle to defend our free market principles, particularly now in regards to health care. For example, Dr. Marcia Angell, a former editor of The New England Journal of Medicine, who is currently promoting her new book, "The Truth About Drug Companies," and peddling her misguided view of health care in the process, believes the government should control the health care industry.

Having lived 32 years as a physician, I have seen that most of us as patients, consumers, and health care providers, do not want, need, or benefit from more government controls. Least of all, we do not want the socialized medicine that is destroying the health care system and economy of Canada and has not worked in Russia, Cuba, China or anywhere else. Thousands of desperate patients each year journey from Canada, and other countries with government run health care, to the United States.

In her critique Dr. Angell contends, "The number of truly innovative new drugs is quite small." But that allegation simply falls flat, as the FDA has approved more than 300 new drugs, biologicals, and vaccines during the past decade. These medications treat more than 150 conditions including HIV/AIDS, Alzheimer's, sepsis, high cholesterol, psychosis, and depression among numerous others.

To cut costs, Angell recommends that we cease developing drugs for diseases including the "accompaniments" of aging, acid reflux disease, and erectile dysfunction which she snidely suggests is a problem of "decrepit old men" and is otherwise "rare" and "mild."

Independent studies have shown that the increased use of prescription drugs not only saves lives but also saves health care costs by reducing the need for hospital and nursing home care and other services. We do not hear this from Dr. Angell and other critics.

In fact, Angell claims "Drugs are the fastest-growing part of the healthcare bill." Yet when we strip away the deceptive rhetoric and look at the basic economics, we find that only about 10.5 percent of our health care dollar goes for prescription drugs.

We all know medical research is expensive, costing more than $33 billion in 2003 alone. A peer-reviewed Tufts study appearing in the Journal of Health Economics concluded that it costs more than $800 million to develop a new drug and have it approved by the FDA. Accordingly, it is perplexing that in her book Dr. Angell opposes cutting FDA red tape to expedite new treatments to patients.

We live in an age of incredible innovation, and we all reap the benefits of medical research. Those who wish to socialize and control our health care should be aware they will harm everyone in their relentless pursuit of a villain that does not exist.

Dr. May resides in Lubbock, Texas and is a retina surgeon; he lectures on economics, and he has been on the faculties of the University of Illinois, the University of Texas, the University of California, Tulane University, and Texas Tech Health Sciences University. He has lectured and taught surgery throughout the United States and in Canada, China, India, Japan, Great Britain, and Western Europe.


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