Where is innovation in the healthcare debate?

A consensus is emerging that innovation is our best national strategy to pull our economy forward. Americans descend from those who wanted a better life, who believed they have a better idea and who challenged the status quo. That is why we lead the world in those areas where creativity and innovation count: in Internet companies, movies, semiconductors and music.

We also lead the world in healthcare innovation; yet many in Congress wrongly assume that American healthcare is behind that of other developed countries.

Most major medical breakthroughs, new procedures and drug treatments are invented, developed, tested and offered in America first. Proponents of the view that American healthcare lags behind the rest of the world note that our higher cost of medicine is not matched by measures of national health such as rates of infant mortality, life expectancy and diabetes. These statistics do not measure the quality of healthcare but rather the choices Americans make in diet, exercise, pregnancy and lifestyle.

Where unhealthy lifestyles are removed from the equation, America’s healthcare system is top of class. Our innovative system results in lower mortality from breast cancer and prostate and other forms of cancer where lifestyle is less important than timely and targeted detection and treatment.

Our leadership and innovation in healthcare is built on a process that attracts bright innovative people to healthcare and research. It rewards them for their success through recognition and pay.

Yet the healthcare legislation now before Congress does not have an innovation focus. Sure, it seeks to reward those doctors with better and more consistent outcomes, but it may discourage breakthrough treatments in which the U.S. has been such a leader. And Americans are concerned — despite a near absence of discussion about innovation in the healthcare debate.

A new national Zogby International poll commissioned by CEA revealed that 60 percent of Americans said that they were concerned that current path being taken by Congress would be detrimental to medical innovation. Nearly half of respondents said they were “very concerned.” Older Americans were the most concerned, with 57 percent of those over 70 saying they were “very concerned.” Nearly 53 percent of those ages 35-54 were also “very concerned.” This same poll found that 96 percent of Americans believe that innovation is important to the future of our nation.

How can legislators preserve health-care innovation while expanding coverage to the uninsured and controlling medical costs?

First, Congress should recognize that innovation comes from specialists. The legislation before Congress shifts medical spending from specialists to generalists. When your loved ones are seriously ill it is the specialist and latest innovation that matter. To ask family doctors to care for complex ailments is to deny Americans the best that modern medicine has to offer.

Second, health-care policy reform must include malpractice reform. The truth about medicine is that perfect outcomes are not always obtainable, and when the outcome is not perfect, the American way is to sue, driving a massive litigation business that increases costs to all.

Third, we should recognize that great cost (and energy) savings will soon come from emerging technologies which allow people to test themselves at home to help doctors monitor their status. Whether it is blood viscosity, cardiac changes or other biomedical changes, home healthcare equipment is one of the fastest growing segments which will change the frequency of and need for frequent live doctor visits. Legislation should encourage rather than discourage innovation in this area.

Fourth, we should do everything we can to encourage the sort of disruptive innovation in the medical field that that has characterized the technology industry. This disruptive innovation, often spearheaded by entrepreneurs like the founders of Google and eBay, has brought huge benefits to consumers while driving down prices. Policymakers should guard against attempts by incumbent medical interests to sideline new business models and technologies.

While the media focus remains on the so-called public option, our bigger concern is a one-size-fits-all mandate which could raise costs and discourage innovation.

If we wish to preserve the good things about the American healthcare system, we need to adjust the legislation to recognize American’s leadership in innovation, our policies encouraging unhealthy lifestyles, the costs imposed by malpractice insurance and litigation, the trend towards home health technology and the critical role of specialists.

American healthcare innovation and leadership must not be discarded. The common good of universal coverage is a poor replacement for today’s benefit that the great majority of Americans enjoy: the most innovative and highest quality healthcare in the world.

Gary Shapiro is president and CEO of the Consumer Electronics Association (CEA).