Uwe Reinhardt on the Cost of an Extra Year of Life

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Saturday, 29 March 2014 16:02

Uwe Reinhardt picked up on an earlier blogpost in which he asked how much should we be willing to pay for an extra year of life. I had objected to his framing since the high cost in the matter he raised was associated with the patent protected price for the drug in question, not actual resources from society.

The point is that the (possibly considerable) resources involved in developing the drug had already been used. The marginal resources in the form or producing additional units of the drug and administering the treatment would be fairly small. That would make the issues in this particular case trivial. It would not require much deliberation to say that it is worth $1,000 or $2,000 to extend a person's life by a year.

In this post Reinhardt acknowledges the point, and concedes that there could be better ways than patent monopolies to finance research into prescription drugs but adds:

"The alternatives to pricing new medical technology proposed by Mr. Baker and others whom he cites face huge political hurdles not likely to be overcome soon, if ever."

He certainly is right about the huge political obstacles, but given how much is at stake it certainly seems worth trying to press the discussion. After all, the idea of having large numbers of people needlessly denied medical care that could extend their life is a pretty big deal.