Seeing Medical Innovation With My Own Eyes

snellen-eye-chartThis blog post is not about taxes, the job market or retirement — the topics I most often write about.  It’s about the health care market, of which the NCPA is no stranger.

I went to the eye doctor yesterday for an annual check-up.  It’s not a typical check-up for somebody of my age.  I must go see a specialist because I have a condition that is deteriorating the endothelial layer of my corneas.  Without going into technical details, let me just say that this condition will eventually affect my sight and will likely require me to have a corneal tissue transplant.  I have known about this condition for the past few years and can adequately prepare myself for what I will need to do in the future to ensure the health of my eyes.

However, yesterday’s appointment threw me for a loop.  I found out that I also have cataracts. Hearing the news shocked me.  While cataracts are very common in the elderly, I could not fathom having a condition that I should not have to be concerned with for another 30 years foisted upon me in my prime.  As the doctor showed me pictures of my eyes and described measurements, procedures, techniques, etc. I could barely hear what he was saying.  I was simply trying to absorb the statement, “You have cataracts.”  All the technical jargon was lost on me as I held my composure and blinked back tears.  What next? I thought. Macular degeneration? Detached retina? My mind raced as the possibilities of what would happen next seemed gloomy.

After a long visit with the doctor that was chockfull of technical information of which I barely understood, I was led to another office where I scheduled my surgery and was given several sheets of forms and instructions.  I was also presented with a cost sheet.  A cost sheet?  (Doesn’t insurance cover this?) As I learned, I would be responsible for fulfilling my annual deductible as well as some out-of-pocket costs.  These costs included a lens that is recommended for my eyes that insurance does not cover (this is not surprising, as there are many eye procedures and products not covered by traditional insurance).  It is a special toric lens for astigmatism.  For people such as myself who are, up until yesterday, unfamiliar with what goes on in cataract surgery, it involves removing your own “crystalline lens” and replacing it with an artificial “intraocular” lens (IOL).  Before the mid 1990s, there was no such thing as a toric version of the IOL.  Even then, newly invented toric IOLs were not perfect.  But many advancements have been made since then, and toric IOLs can produce excellent results for patients with severe astigmatism.

So what is the point of this story?  The health care market, when allowed to profit and innovate, is truly amazing.  Yes, I have to pay more for a lens that will best benefit me, but I get to make that choice, not a government bureaucrat.  Sure, somebody is probably making a heck of a profit on the toric IOL, but so what?  They are providing me with a tool that will help me save my eyesight — one of the senses that I am not quite ready to part with yet.  And yes, it will cost me some extra cash, but I am happy to forego some discretionary purchases so that I can get my eyes back.

I might also add that the corneal transplant procedure that will most likely be in my future is so vastly improved now that very little donor tissue is even needed, improving the success of this procedure.

Whatever happens with health care reform, it is my hope that the market for innovation and competition in other areas of health will grow and thrive as it has in the area of eye care.

Comments (19)

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  1. Andrew says:

    Sorry to hear, Pam! Glad to hear you’ll be getting taken care of and acknowledge the importance of innovation in the medical industry.

  2. Jonathan says:

    Yes, I think people pay way to much attention to cost and not enough attention to how magnificent the technology they are purchasing truly is…it’s like the world has been desensitized to innovation.

    • Dewaine says:

      True, we take it for granted. That can become dangerous when we start thinking that we are entitled to it (someone else’s work). That kind of thinking is likely to lead to theft (redistribution) and a decline in innovation due to lack of incentive. We need to keep our minds right, it is a slippery slope and a long way down.

  3. Miguel says:

    I am sorry to hear that Pam! I agree with jonathan, it’s almost like people complaining when they can’t get adequate internet reception on an airplane…you are 30,000 in the AIR. Just like Pam said, wherever healthcare reform goes, my only plea is that we maintain some form of market innovation and appreciate it when it comes around.

  4. Catherine says:

    Fantastic post! This explains so much about health care markets so well. You are handling the challenge well and kudos to you for being an informed and determined patient.

  5. Lloyd says:

    Still cannot get over how much “traditional” insurance does not cover. The list just seems endless.

    • Andrew says:

      Right. It ends up leaving you thinking if it’s even worth it in the end, especially for non-catastrophic insurance.

    • Pam says:

      This is true. But what I am always puzzled about is how willing people will be to spend $30,000 on a new car or a fancy European vacation, but they are put out by paying for a health issue that to me would be far more valuable! I will not give insurance that much power over my decision-making ability. If I don’t have my eyes, what would be the use of buying a new car?

  6. Lewis Warne says:

    Innovation can have profound impacts on individuals. As an example, both cataract and corneal dystrophy treatment have improved many-fold in the past 20 years.

    Access to treatments may be limited by cost right now, but maybe in a couple decades it will be available to anyone at a reasonable price. What better motive is there than the profit motive?

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