When Evident Truths Are News

It is troublesome to live in a world in which evident truths are news - because they are not presently believed, acted on, nor in vogue. Buried in a recent op-ed on legislative control over which medicine is researched and which medicine you are allowed to use, you'll find the signs of common sense, positions far removed from what actually takes place. You didn't think you lived in a free country, in which you can choose the medicine you want to purchase and the research you want to support, did you?

To find out why this longevity "increase gap" exists, I examined several factors that researchers generally agree affect life expectancy, including medical innovation, obesity rates, smoking and HIV-AIDS infection rates. While each of these factors had an impact on longevity, the most important factor was medical innovation. In particular, I found that longevity increased the most in those states where access to newer drugs -- measured by their mean "vintage," or FDA approval year -- in Medicaid and Medicare programs has increased the most.

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Congressional debate over the Prescription Drug User Fee Act is a microcosm of the national debate over the appropriate balance between safety and rapid access to new and sometimes very expensive medical innovations. While this debate is complex, my research indicates that the best way to achieve sustained improvements in health, longevity and productivity is by continuing to support policies that encourage medical innovation and the new medical goods and services it produces.

Newer medical technology is better - when you are permitted to use it by the rules churned out by unelected, unaccountable government employees more incentivized to prevent new medicine than to allow progress. Medical technology advances fastest when when innovation is greatest - which goes hand in hand with the greatest freedom of research and commercialization. This is not stunning new information, yet even modestly sane lines of thought like that in the quoted article - "let us make the present system less oppressively bad" - form the contrarian position these days.

The main obstacle to a future of far longer, healthier lives is not the technology. It's those people who are gleefully burning the boat that could get us there.

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