Which two American institutions are the among most expensive and least effective? Public education below the university level is clearly the first, strangled by a governmental near-monopoly, and William Tucker explains how American health care is similarly impeded by regulation.

A complicated system of mutual dependency distorts the incentives. "The FDA is like the FCC and Big Pharma is like the regional Bells" is what Mr. Kessler hears from Don Listwin, a former Cisco executive who now heads the Canary Foundation, a Silicon Valley-based effort to promote preventive medicine. In other words, in medicine as in telecom, the big players end up exploiting regulations more than opposing them, if only to preserve their monopolies. The Food and Drug Administration--understandably but narrow-mindedly--wants "cures" for cancer and other diseases. Thus tens of thousands of chemicals are screened, only a handful make it even to Phase I trials, and by the time a new drug is approved a billion dollars has been spent. Even then the new drug may help only 10% of patients.

Yet if someone were to invent a device with a wide, preventive usefulness--say, a nanotech implant that would spot the proteins that indicate the first minute presence of cancer--it would have to go through the same process of billion-dollar testing. Since the government and insurance companies are reluctant to add anything to their repertoire of coverage--and since such a device would be targeted at the much broader pool of people who are not sick--research might well stall in its earliest phases for lack of reimbursement-funding. ...

In one hilarious sequence, Mr. Kessler recounts trying to draw his own blood sample, in the hope of checking his cholesterol. But clinics won't draw blood without a doctor's orders. Drugstores think you want the syringe to shoot heroin. Unless you want to just gouge your own finger, you're in the clutches of organized medicine. Imagine how tightly it grips something a bit more sophisticated.

As I wrote earlier about America's health care problem:

Rather than require all practicing physicians to be certified by a government-approved authority, the government should simply require that physicians disclose their credentials and leave the certifications to private organizations (as is done in most professional fields). This would open the door for thousands of lower-cost, lower-skill physicians who would be more than able to treat common maladies like colds and broken bones. You don't need an MD to set a broken arm, so why should you have to pay for one? Because currently the government says so. Medication is similar. Consumers need the government to ensure that drug companies disclose all the potential side-effects of their products, but we don't need the FDA to tell us what we can and can't put in our bodies if we're willing to take known risks.

In the attempt to protect us from ourselves, the government stifles medical innovation and restricts the market, driving costs up and severely limiting the options available for treatments of every sort of illness.

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