President Obama made a big show about cutting “red tape” government regulations that kill jobs and hurt the economy. In addition, members of the Obama administration, including his wife, Michelle, claim they want to improve the health and well-being of Americans. If these are genuine policy goals of the current administration then a good place to start would be to stop the FDA from instituting any new policies.
A news story today told the good news that the FDA approved a device for the iPhone that would combine a plug-in blood pressure monitor with an application purchased in the app store to monitor the health of the user. According to a two-year long study conducted by the Brookings Institution and the Kauffman Foundation, remote medical reporting such as blood pressure monitoring could save the nation nearly $200 billion in health care costs over 25 years.
According to remarks by economist Robert E. Litan, the study’s author, who is the Vice President for Research at the Kauffman Foundation and Senior Fellow at Brookings:
Widespread use of remote monitoring over broadband networks, located in both institutions and homes, to track vital signs of patients with chronic diseases such as congestive heart failure and diabetes is a critical and urgent development. “Remote monitoring can spot health problems sooner, reduce hospitalization, improve life quality and save money.”
Litans made his remarks earlier this year at a health forum sponsored by the Better Health Care Together coalition (BHCT). Participants at that forum suggested that the way to achieve wide-spread usage of devices like the cuff is to have larger insurance payouts for hospitals in order to fiscally incentivize their integration.
While profit motivation of care-givers is indeed necessary to increase the speed of adoption of such technologies, more important is to give free reign to the people developing the devices and to make sure that government policies aren’t destroying their profit motive.
Sadly, the rise of remote health devices like the BP cuff has piqued the interest of the FDA and like a shark that smells blood in the water the agency announced in May that it was considering regulating medical iphone “apps”.
As my colleague Gregory Conko wrote in his article "FDA’s Bad Medicine: How the Dispersed Knowledge Problem Affects Drug Safety Analysis," “The Food and Drug Administration’s (FDA) regulation of drugs and medical devices has long been characterized by three major problems: excessively long approval times, excessive costs, and flawed decision making.” These problems result in greater costs for the developers, reduced profits, and diminishing incentives to even consider developing certain products. The increased time and cost to get their products to market mean that the rate of introduction of new products will decrease.
The presence of the Internet in modern life has provided a cheap and easy way for innovators to test, develop, introduce products, collect feedback, and innovate. The result has been a massive increase in the quality of our lives. As regulation increases it diminishes the benefits that the internet provides for innovators and the resulting benefits for consumers who can choose from a greater number of products that cost less and are personalized to their particular needs. FDA policies result in a slower process of getting innovations to market and greatly reduce the variety of products while increasing their costs.
If the Obama administration really wants to improve the health of America both physically and fiscally, he ought to cut FDA regulations out of the government’s diet.