Reason TV recently ran a segment on medical tourism, featuring several heroic healthcare entrepreneurs and some sound bites worth memorizing:
“Medical tourism, which is a euphemism for free trade in healthcare, has allowed patients from around the world, facing certain death at home, to receive life-saving treatment abroad.” [emphasis added]
There is a stark difference between a world in which people can freely and voluntarily serve one another, and one in which national boundaries and geographical distance impose insurmountable costs to exchange. The global spread of knowledge and decreases in travel costs have undoubtedly made us freer in this regard, but there is still work to be done. The Reason segment highlights the humanitarian group Mercy Ships, which operates under a proto-seasteading business model that is lowering costs and barriers even further, by bringing ship-based doctors and facilities directly to regions where healthcare is most desperately needed. A world of thousands of mobile seastead clinics will someday enable doctors and patients to travel with the same ease as information and physical goods, sparking a boom in medical treatment and innovation like nothing witnessed before in history. The dynamic geography capabilities of ships reduce travel barriers and visa issues, while jurisdictional arbitrage enables successful treatments that would otherwise be stymied by regulation.
Just how harmful is over-regulation of medicine in the United States? Bad enough that the President’s own Council of Advisors on Science and Technology recently released a report on the “broad agreement that our clinical trials system is inefficient.” Although praised by both parties, the report’s suggested reforms of the sluggish approval process are unlikely to occur anytime soon – in spite of the consensus, politicians remain paralyzed by the fear of blame for presiding over “rampant deregulation,” especially with regard to the third and final phase, which focuses on the effectiveness of a given treatment. Of course, healthcare companies should be concerned with the effectiveness of their products and services, but positive proof can be elusive for treatments of rare conditions, due to small sample sizes of patients available for the final, hyper-controlled testing. Developing a drug takes an average of about 12 years, one quarter of which is spent in Phase 3, the so-called “Valley of Death.” The mere prospect of a late stage delay often leads companies to fold and return shareholders’ money, just short of successful development.
Regulatory barriers to developing drugs represent a largely invisible tragedy for patients whose conditions go untreated. Waiting for Washington to find the courage to enact sensible reform is certain to lead to further unnecessary death and suffering. Reason does a public service by praising the pioneers of a nascent medical tourism industry. The Seasteading Institute will continue to do its part, spotlighting the promise of this practice aboard ships and platforms. Our latest medical tourism research was conducted by a team of University of Houston graduate students, under our Director of Engineering, George Petrie. Their research examined the possibility of turning an existing oil rig in the Gulf of Mexico into an advanced medicine clinic/resort; display boards of their results with visual renderings can be found on our engineering research page.