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No One Can Predict the Future of Health Care


On Wonkblog, Ezra Klein highlights a new implant developed by Swiss scientists that can measure blood chemicals linked to heart attacks and send the result to your phone:

Consider how dramatically these devices will change medicine. Right now, the medical industry is fundamentally reactive. Something goes wrong, and we go to them to fix it. This will make medicine fundamentally proactive. They will see something going wrong, and they will intervene to stop it. It’s like “Minority Report” for health care.

This is why I don’t put much stock in projections of health-care spending that run 30 or 50 or 75 years into the future. Will biometric devices in constant communication with the cloud make medicine more or less expensive? Will driverless cars prolong life in a way that saves money or costs it? Will the advances in preventive technology make medicine so effective that we’re glad to devote 40 percent of gross domestic product to it? Who knows?

Encouraging this kind of innovation means, in part, keeping policy nimble and adaptive. Big, ambitious, top-down policies have a habit of becoming outdated in a decade or so, and tend to linger on far past their shelf life. Central planning can also involve wasteful subsidies, such as the Obama administration’s funding for ineffective electronic health records in the 2009 stimulus.

The irony here is that Klein and left-leaning wonks everywhere who trumpet the benefits of medical technology are also enthusiastic supporters of Obamacare. We hope Obamacare won’t slow down the sort of transformation Klein points to, but the running stream of revelations about its unforeseen ill effects makes us skeptical. All our elaborate plans and schemes, and the best projections of our technocrats, don’t do much to anticipate the health care changes coming down the pike.

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