Thomas Sowell

None of the various schemes for lowering the prices of medicines seems willing to face up to the simple fact that each new medicine developed costs hundreds of millions of dollars. This huge inescapable fact seems to just evaporate from the discussion as politicians vie with one another for the best way to make these medicines "affordable" at "reasonable" prices.

Politicians who claim to be able to "bring down the cost of health care" are talking about bringing down the prices charged. But prices are not costs. Prices are what pay for costs.

No matter how much lower the government sets the prices paid to doctors, hospitals, or pharmaceutical drug manufacturers, none of this reduces the costs in the slightest.

It still takes just as much time, equipment, and training to turn a medical school student into a doctor. It still takes just as many hospitals to care for the sick. It still takes just as many years of scientific research and clinical trials to create a new medicine.

Those who are dying to control the prices of pharmaceutical drugs are oblivious to the fact that other people may be literally dying unnecessarily if they succeed. There is no free lunch, even though politicians get elected by promising free lunches.

Government price controls on medicines and medical care simply mean that these costs do not all get covered. This works in the short run -- and the short run is what politicians are interested in, because elections are held in the short run. But the rest of us had better think ahead, if we value our health.

Thomas Sowell

Thomas Sowell is a senior fellow at the Hoover Institute and author of The Housing Boom and Bust.

Creators Syndicate