If Thomas Edison Had to Submit His Innovations to Medicare, You Would Be Reading This by Candlelight

Two articles in the Washington Post sparked these two poor, unsuccessful letters to the editor. First this:

I’m no Republican, but “‘Innovation advisers’ chosen for ideas to improve health care, cut costs” [Jan. 21] gives short shrift to those who oppose the new health care law’s Center for Medicare and Medicaid Innovation when it reports, “Some Republicans have questioned the value of investing in experimentation to produce results at a time of limited resources.”

If some critic of the law actually said, “Resource limitations prevent us from investing in innovations that stretch resources further,” please do print it. I could use the laugh. But that’s not why critics oppose the Center.

The argument against the health care law’s efforts to promote innovation is that they won’t work. The Congressional Budget Office recently reported that out of dozens of supposed Medicare innovations, only one met its goal of saving taxpayers money. That pilot program ended 16 years ago. Medicare has yet to adopt it program-wide.

This is an important debate. Readers deserve to hear both sides, not caricatures.

And then this:

Recent coverage of the new health care overhaul [“‘Innovation advisers’ chosen for ideas to improve health care, cut costs,” Jan. 21; “Center for Medicare and Medicaid Innovation aims to cut health-care costs,” Jan. 26] let defenders make outlandish claims about government efficiency, but gave short shrift to critics.

Government is not more innovative than private health insurance. It was private health plans that developed important innovations like prepayment, bundled payments, pay-for-performance, and penalties for medical errors. Government adoption typically lags private insurers by decades. In the rare instance where Medicare successfully tests an innovation (read: bundled payments for heart bypass surgery), it goes nowhere. If Thomas Edison had to submit his innovations to Medicare, you would be reading this by candlelight.

We don’t need more pilot programs to tell us that Medicare blocks innovation. What we need is a little skepticism when presented with the latest Bureau of Government Efficiency.