Health innovation is great for patients, but only if they can afford it

A man taking cash out of his wallet
Stakeholder efforts to control the price of innovation just "move deck chairs around," experts say. (Getty/lzf)

Patients have plenty to gain from the latest innovations in healthcare. But they have to be able to afford it first. 

Sabrina Corlette, a research professor at the Center on Health Insurance Reforms at Georgetown University's Health Policy Institute, said policies aimed at curbing the cost of new treatments or technologies often just "move deck chairs around" instead. 

"We've got this balloon, and it's just getting pushed around instead of shrunk," Corlette said. 

Payers and employers, for example, are trying to control their spend by shifting more costs to consumers, Corlette said. But that doesn't get to the heart of the problem: that the price of new care options or technologies can be too high, regardless of who is paying. 

Corlette was one of several speakers at a forum Thursday morning on the cost of innovation in healthcare hosted by Axios. 

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Despite these attempts to alleviate the cost problem, she said, "we all pay for innovation one way or another. As a country, our political system values innovation, but it doesn't really value value." 

The event also featured two legislators who offered different perspectives on how to best pay for innovation. Rep. Erik Paulsen, R-Minn., said it's crucial that existing healthcare laws and regulations are modernized to account for new technologies and innovations. 

This includes working with pharmaceutical companies, medical device makers, and providers to continue the push toward value-based care. Having "Washington get out of the way" is crucial to allowing these groups to drive innovation. 

"We need to recognize that innovation and technology is the way forward," Paulsen said. 

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"Light touch regulation" allows for greater competition, bringing disruptors into the market and lowering cost of new innovations, Paulsen said. 

Rep. Sandy Levin, D-Mich., said that continuing to focus on insurance coverage expansions kick-started under the Affordable Care Act is instead the solution to helping more people access new treatment options and health tech. As more people are able to access healthcare generally, they can take advantage of new approaches such as precision medicine for more personalized care, he said.