Reason.tv: Would ObamaCare Kill Medical Innovation?


As health care reform inches closer to reality, a massively important question becomes even more pressing: Will ObamaCare kill the sorts of medical innovation that makes the United States the leader in bringing new treatments, technology, and procedures to market?

"America is the only industrialized nation that doesn't have a national health plan," says Rep. Charlie Rangel (D-N.Y.), former Gov. Howard Dean (D-Vt.), and countless others who want the United States government to guarantee health coverage to all.

Protesters at a recent rally in downtown Los Angeles demanded universal coverage. They told Reason.tv that America is a cruel land where profits come before people.

"It's disgusting!" said one woman. "There should be no profits in health care!" What about those who argue that profits drive medical innovation? "I think that's kind of sick," declared another protester, who wants the U.S. to be more like Canada, where government policy keeps drug prices, and drug company profits, lower than in America.

Many regard the profit motive as cruel, but might it actually produce compassionate results? After all, America has generated vastly more medical innovations than other nations. Included in the long list is the innovation that saved the life of Dave Christensen, construction supervisor, husband, and father. After being diagnosed with cancer, Christensen was lucky enough to be given a then-experimental drug that probably wouldn't have been developed or brought to market in any other country in the world.

If America follows the lead of the rest of the world and clamps down on profits in health care, who will make tomorrow's wonder drugs?

"Drug companies that take big risks may make big profits," says Reason.tv's Nick Gillespie, who hosts the video. "But I say, Dood for them. If they're saving lives, I hope they make a killing."

"Would ObamaCare Kill Medical Innovation?" runs about seven minutes. Producer-Writer: Ted Balaker; Producer: Hawk Jensen; Director of Photography: Alex Manning; Associate Producer: Paul Detrick.

Special thanks to the Independence Institute for arranging and underwriting travel to Canada.

For downloadable versions, go here.

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  1. When everyone learns the truth it’ll be too late.

    And you can be sure the first people to complain about it will be the ones who shoved it down our throats.

  2. And Dood for you, too, dood.

    1. I’m trying to figure out whether that’s a typo or some kind of expression. These guys are so cutesy it’s hard to tell.

  3. Colin,

    Nobody will be able to put his finger on just what medical innovation we don’t have 25 or 50 years from now, just like nobody today can put their finger on exactly what cool product or service we don’t have right now because of the taxes and regulations that resulted from the New Deal and Great Society. If this healthcare thing passes people in the future will worship it the way and Obama the way FDR and the New Deal are worshipped today.

  4. Would ObamaCare Kill Medical Innovation?

    No, it will hobble it. But nobody will notice. How do you lament the drug or device that never existed? Nobody misses the stillborn. We’ll tally up all those Americans Obama created or saved, and rejoice in the wisdom and benevolence of the Nanny State.

    1. Sadly you are probably right.

  5. There was a post here a few days ago quoting liberal healthcare wonks and “ethicists” talking about how great it would be to go back to the healthcare technology we had 30 years ago. With 70s technology, we could afford true equality.

    So, I would say killing off innovation isn’t just a side effect of Obamacare it is a designed effect. All new medical technology is going to do, from the liberal perspective, is cost a lot of money and save a few lives and not others. Better to have equality than progress.

    1. How many poor people are going to grieve because rich people don’t have access to drugs that, had they existed, poor people could not have afforded?

      (And trying to remind people that TVs and automobiles used to be for rich people and now most poor people have them can be like banging your head against the wall.)

      1. Patents don’t last forever and the fact that such treatments are profitable encourages those who also want to make money to try and make such treatments cheaper such that they can take all the business away from the person offering the formerly profitable treatment.

        It’s really quite simple, and works out very well in other sectors when allowed. Only rich people used to have computers, but once the technology is developed it is easy to reproduce.

    2. Egalitarianism in the minds of statists is the same thing as equal rights. A famous author said that the Devil is not single and great. He is many and smutty and small.

  6. I think a mixed model may be necessary. Innovation is great. But for Big Pharma, a lot of innovation has been on “me-too” drugs that provide marginal additional therapeutic benefit over generics. So gazillions are spent not on R&D, but on marketing brand awareness for the expensive stuff.

    For example, Prilosec (now generic, OTC) and Nexium (presciption, branded). Exact same active ingredient with maybe a 10X difference in price!

    I say maintain innovation, but adjust the regulatory regime to minimize that.

    1. There is no way that some government bureaucrat or elected official is going to come up with a better formula for how much money to spend on R&D and how much to spend on advertising than can several competing businesses.

    2. So, whenever a doctor gives you a prescription, just ask for the generic version if there is one.

      Let competition eventually bring the prices down.

    3. I say maintain innovation, but adjust the regulatory regime to minimize that.

      We need a drug ad czar!

    4. If true, sounds like a failure of the patent system.

    5. Generics are so much cheaper because the hard and expensive research work has been done before by the “evil corporations just in it for profit.” No one invents a generic drug, it happens when the patent protection runs out. While yes, a lot of money is spent on advertising, they do spend quite a bit on R&D, drugs trials, and navigating the approval process.

  7. What about those who argue that profits drive medical innovation? “I think that’s kind of sick,” declared another protester

    I don’t suppose I should be amazed by people who have the idea that new medicines and treatments simply fall out of the sky, but I can’t help it.

    1. Doctors and nurses don’t work for “profit”. Don’t you know anything.

      1. So what do you call a paycheck?

  8. Does a question as a headline give away what follows the headline?

    And, Enjoy Every Sandwich, what do you mean health care isn’t free? It’s free if we pay for insurance, though, right? Or, if the government pays for it through the taxes we pay, then it’s free, right? Uggg… I’m so confused by all this reforming and changing…

  9. “There should be no profits in health care!”

    Many Americans think with the wrong organ. Emotionalism trumps rational thought. I foresee a day in the not-too-distant future…a Monday, of course…a federal holiday celebrating National Health Care Day. There will be parades, pyrotechnics. The lame shall walk and the blind shall see. The President will give a speech. People will get drunk and do stupid things. The emergency rooms will be packed. Free at last! Free at last! Thank Obama Almighty, it’s free at last!

  10. This is where innovation helps.


  11. Rep. Charlie’s Angels?

  12. I can see these idiot’s forefathers 233 years ago: Every other modern agricultural nation in the world is ruled by a monarchy or emperor! What’s so special about America?

  13. ed and other have already addressed the issue, but here’s Frederic Bastiat on What is Seen and What is Not Seen.

    Also, there was a “docu-drama” –And the Band Played On – the story about the AIDS crisis and the response to it. Alan Alda played a researcher who worked for a university, and was a paragon of “selfless” medicine. He also delayed the progress on finding useful treatments by withholding information from colleagues to ensure that he got the lion’s share of the credit. But hey, he wasn’t working for a profit, right?

    1. From Bastiat:

      “Yet this difference is tremendous; for it almost always happens that when the immediate consequence is favorable, the later consequences are disastrous, and vice versa. Whence it follows that the bad economist pursues a small present good that will be followed by a great evil to come, while the good economist pursues a great good to come, at the risk of a small present evil.”

      1. Bastiat is an oasis, a lifeline, a proof that great political thinkers did exist.
        From The Law:

        It is impossible to introduce into society a greater change and a greater evil than this: the conversion of the law into an instrument of plunder….[I]t erases from everyone’s conscience the distinction between justice and injustice….When law and morality contradict each other, the citizen has the cruel alternative of either losing his moral sense or losing his respect for the law. These two evils are of equal consequence…

  14. Two words: Drug Reimportation
    Once the rest of the world is no longer able to free load off our medical advances, the fantasy of socialized medicine will come crashing down.


    Two scientists working in England paved the way for Levy`s cancer treatment
    successes. In 1975, Georges Koehler, PhD, and Cesar Milstein, PhD, created what
    they called hybridomas. “They glued antibody-making cells together with cancer
    cells to produce hybridomas, which lived forever and provided a permanent supply
    of monoclonal antibody,” said Levy.


    1. You miss the point. Yes, the research is done worldwide. The money to pay for the research come overwhelmingly from the U.S. market. No U.S. market, no money for research in England,…or Germany or Switzerland or the U.S.

      Also, the benefits are felt worldwide. The U.S. market pays for the research and the socialized nations negotiate commodity prices with the manufacturers, prices that they can only afford because the research and approval costs have already been paid for by the U.S. market. If the U.S. system is socialized, all socialized systems will have to share the cost of research prices, not commodity prices. This means that worldwide healthcare costs will rise, or worldwide innovation will stagnate. Probably some of both.

      There is no free lunch.

      1. WHAT IS YOUR SOURCE “money to pay for the research come overwhelmingly from the U.S.”


        1. Stop yelling

      3. In Canada the drug companies allowed price controls in exchange for extended patents. So their is a period where companies that develop drugs make more here than in the States. Also its harder to license drugs in Canada so generic drugs cost a lot more.

  16. “It’s disgusting!” said one woman. “There should be no profits in health care!”

    I’m going to mark this one down as an “eater”.

    1. If Congress would do what it actually has the authority to do and get rid of state mandates and allow interstate health insurance sales, this women would be free to set up a non-profit insurance company. Just what she wants.

  17. I dunno…she’s pretty stringy looking.

  18. How do not-for-profit health insurance companies compare to for-profit health insurance companies?

  19. I sympathize with your thesis, however the graph used in the video is misleading. EU countries should be treated as one if you want to compare them to the USA. I’m not sure if it matters where the research is done. Either way new drugs are introduced first in the US.

  20. “It’s disgusting!” said one woman. “There should be no profits in health care!” What about those who argue that profits drive medical innovation? “I think that’s kind of sick,” declared another protester,

    That is some world-class stupid. USA! USA!

    “The United States: We’re a global leader in providing the highest quality idiots, unsurpassed in their jibbering, flailing of arms, yelling and social justice puppetry.

    1. I don’t know about the socio-political demographics of L.A…. but here in Maryland, I’ve seen and/or argued with a reasonable facsimile of that woman dozens of times. About 9 times out of ten their husband works for the government, for a lobbyist, or for a government contractor. They spend the day shopping and griping about those poor poor people…

      1. It’s pretty bad here in LALA land. On July 4th I was holding a protest sign that I made and the people walking by would take one look and start yelling “Hateful” “Racist” “Knuckle-dragger”, and these people were really mad, yelling and screaming. I really got the feeling they thought I was KKK or something. My sign said “Restore constitutional checks and balances.”

  21. Do we really need to call it “ObamaCare”? Isn’t it ReidPelosiCare? BaucusCare? LandrieuCare?

    1. But, ObamaCare fits in nicely with his messiah image. He isn’t pushing it as hard as Reid or Pelosi are. If it works (or more appropriately, if they’re able to convince people it worked), he’ll take the credit. If it fails horrendously, just watch. Pelosi and Reid and everyone but Obama will take the fall.

    2. ReidPelosiCare = too many syllables
      BaucusCare = too Roman sounding
      LandrieuCare = too whorey

  22. If it fails horrendously, just watch. Pelosi and Reid and everyone but Obama will take the fall.

    Nope. Its welded to him now. Not to mention he will, in fact, sign his name to it.

  23. Maybe someone that would have died or lived a life in pain without treatment will invent something, and then the innovation karma will be equalized.

  24. Innovation karma will be served when the people who support this die early and in pain.

    Sadly, it won’t do the rest of us any good.

  25. Saskatchewan is kwon as the birthplace of Medicare. From the 1930’s to the 1950’s Saskatchewan was the world leader in radiation therapy with major developments coming from the Regina General Hospital and University of Saskatchewan. After the introduction of Medicare in 1962 this innovation ceased. it is unknown how many lives could have been saved by continued developments in this area of technology.

  26. This article makes no sense.

    Insurance company’s and the coverage they provide do not have any influence in medical innovations made by pharmaceutical companies. I am not sure how that connection was ever made.



    Because most of the major pharmaceutical companies are multi-national and have global research facilities.

    People, lease read the following NY TIMES article and really think for a minute… please. For 2 minutes, just breath eeply, calm down and think.


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  29. My only point is that if you take the Bible straight, as I’m sure many of Reasons readers do, you will see a lot of the Old Testament stuff as absolutely insane. Even some cursory knowledge of Hebrew and doing some mathematics and logic will tell you that you really won’t get the full deal by just doing regular skill english reading for those books. In other words, there’s more to the books of the Bible than most will ever grasp. I’m not concerned that Mr. Crumb will go to hell or anything crazy like that! It’s just that he, like many types of religionists, seems to take it literally, take it straight…the Bible’s books were not written by straight laced divinity students in 3 piece suits who white wash religious beliefs as if God made them with clothes on.

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