Last month, the New York Times Magazine published a sprawling cover article by David Leonhardt on how the Obama administration might "remake" the American economy ("The Big Fix"). One of Leonhardt's arguments was that the U.S. spends too much on health care, often without commensurate results, and in his article he suggested spending less on health care and more on education (this view seems to be gaining traction on the left). Despite the length of his article, Leonhardt didn't offer much by way of empirical data in support of his claim about the limited benefits of health care spending or the potential benefits of spending more on education (his argument in support of more emphasis on education included this observation, "The two most affluent immigrant groups in modern America — Asian-Americans and Jews — are also the most educated," without addressing any of the obvious questions that observation raises).
Last Sunday, the New York Times business section offered a different perspective on health care spending, from William Hawkins, the CEO of Medtronic ("The Boss: For Medtronic’s Chief, Success That Hits Home"). Excerpt:
Advances in technology enable us to do things today we weren’t able to do years ago, such as monitoring and managing patients remotely. Twenty years ago when we implanted a defibrillator, it cost $100,000 and wasn’t nearly capable of the performance of today’s devices that are a fraction of the cost.
My family has also been a driving force behind my journey. I have a photo in my office of three of my relatives. My father, 83, has eight coronary stents, some of them ours. My 91-year-old uncle, an injured World War II veteran, suffered from a tremor for years that made his hands shake. When he was 89, doctors implanted one of our deep brain stimulators, which controls movement. When they turned it on, for the first time in 40 or 50 years his hands stopped shaking and he got his life back. My father-in-law, who is 86, has a Medtronic heart valve, stents and a pacemaker.
One of the reasons I’m working is to make sure I can take care of my family so we can enjoy a long life together.
It sounds like Mr. Hawkins's relatives have gotten some positive results from their health care spending. Would we really be better off as a country if that money were thrown into the latest sisyphian federal program to improve public education instead?
The image above, of the deep brain stimulator, is from Wired.