One of the points of contention in the debate over healthcare reform in the United States is the question of medical research. In the view of many who oppose a single-payer system, the way we deliver health services in this country funds the development of new procedures and drugs that the rest of the world benefits from, allowing them to pay much less. But how does this belief square with reality? As with much that the Republican Party asserts, the alternative facts here do not survive analysis.
For one thing, while spending for biomedical research in this country runs to a hundred billion per annum and that money primarily comes from the earnings upon selling the results of the research, nothing about a single-payer system would necessarily change this. Single payer means that the government collects taxes and then distributes those funds to service providers and pharmaceutical companies. How much would be charged would be up to the negotiations of the government and drug companies and ultimately up to the voters, meaning that we could continue spending what we are now, if that’s what we choose.
Another thing to consider is where the drug companies’ money is going. The bulk of spending done in the pharmaceutical industry is for marketing. In other words, it’s paying for all those annoying advertisements that promise better living through chemistry, terms and conditions applying and side effects often being worse than the original disease. With a single payer, there’s no need for all the spam. And given how the relentless promotion of drugs leads to many people taking treatments that they don’t need, as I suggested above, we could continue spending what we do now, but focus the flow of money to actual research and development.
And then there’s the fact that medical research doesn’t happen only in the United States. Yes, we have the most going on here of any individual nation, but the majority of research takes place in the rest of the world.
But since trade deals are currently the subject of reconsideration, we could conceivably make agreements with countries regarding medical research that would reflect the money spent by each country to develop new drugs and procedures.
The reality of medical research is that the business is risky. The way it’s done currently creates a motivation toward safe efforts, something that will make a return on investment soon. This means a lot of treatments for conditions that are easy to make people think they have and fewer cures. If our healthcare dollars are being put more toward basic science, the results will be better for all of us. Yes, this means taxes paying for research. And? We have plenty of money to fight wars of choice and to subsidize fossil fuel companies. Why not spend some on things that produce good results? Research is one of the best things for governments to do.
After all of this, it’s clear that the argument that a single-payer system would stifle research is a red herring. Development of new wonder drugs won’t end if we have the humanity to provide necessary medical care to every American. Saying otherwise plays into the ignorance and greed of the Republican Party, but is, as I’ve shown, false on the facts.
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