Articles that worry about the rising costs of health care and hand wring about what we are to do about it are a dime a dozen. Still, Washington Post Science and Medical Reporter David Brown has written a lengthy article that presents a good summary of the problem. From the story:
This difficult truth, which has emerged over the past half-century, is leading the United States and the rest of the industrialized world into a new era of humankind. We are on a collision course between our wish to live longer, healthier lives and our capacity to pay for that wish. Whether we can somehow avoid the collision is perhaps the most important domestic issue of this century. From now on, health care costs will be up there with globalization, terrorism and climate change as a force shaping our world.
So tell me something I don’t know–although I think the problem with climate change is more hysteria than reality. Still, the billion dollar question, obviously, is what do we do about the problem of rising health care costs?
One part of the solution might be to reign in the billions of public dollars we pour into medical and scientific research at the federal level and use it to fund current needs. Don’t get me wrong: Most research money is well spent. But we are heading into a time in which we will have to triage government. If and when we hit that point–and given the growth in public debt, we may well already be there–it strikes me that we may have to choose between pushing the medically vulnerable out of the lifeboat or dramatically slowing the pace of medical research and scientific advancement.
If that point is reached, we should choose the latter option. I am all for research, but not at the expense of people. Better to do less research than impose a utilitarian medical ethic that denies care to–our countenances the killing of–the elderly, dying, or people with disabilities. Moreover, once the financial crisis ended, we could up the funding for science. But once we went down Utilitarian Road, it would be nigh on impossible to ever get back to a truly moral health care system.
Hopefully, we will find an ethical way to have decent health care system and bounteously fund scientific research too: Never underestimate scientific ingenuity. But if we ever do have to choose, I know which way I will want society to go.