Writing at his regular Beat the Press blog (7/8/09), economist Dean Baker says that the New York Times‘ David Leonhardt “rightly complains that President Obama’s healthcare plan does nothing to change the incentives for doctors to prescribe expensive forms of care, even when there is no evidence that this care will lead to better outcomes.” But “Leonhardt fails to take the extra step and ask why this care is expensive”:
In most cases, the care is more expensive because it involves expensive medical equipment and drugs, with a healthy dash of high doctors’ fees as well. The reason that medical equipment and drugs are expensive is that they have government-granted patent monopolies. In the absence of such monopolies, medical equipment and drugs would be cheap in nearly all cases. The huge patent rents that these monopolies allow medical supply companies and drug companies to earn also give them incentive to mislead doctors and the public about the benefits of their products.
The patent monopolies are justified as being necessary to support the development of new equipment and drugs; however, there are more efficient alternatives. However, that would require bigger thinking than NYT columnists are yet prepared to undertake.
This being far from a new story, the Times really has no excuse for ignoring the factors described by Baker, except maybe that they’re corporate media reporting on corporate medicine–and don’t worry, Baker tells us that “the WaPo has the same problem.” See FAIR”s magazine Extra!: “Media on Medicare: Don’t Mess With Success–or Corporate Profits” (1-2/07) by Julie Hollar and Jim Naureckas.