NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis


October 5, 2006

The American health care system may be performing better than it seems at first glance. When it comes to medical innovation, the United States is the world leader, says Tyler Cowen, economics professor at George Mason University.

For example:

  • In the last 10 years, for instance, 12 Nobel Prizes in medicine have gone to American-born scientists working in the United States, 3 have gone to foreign-born scientists working in the United States, and just 7 have gone to researchers outside the country.
  • The six most important medical innovations of the last 25 years, according to a 2001 poll of physicians, were magnetic resonance imaging and computed tomography (CT scan); ACE inhibitors, used in the treatment of hypertension and congestive heart failure; balloon angioplasty; statins to lower cholesterol levels; mammography; and coronary artery bypass grafts.

In real terms, spending on American biomedical research has doubled since 1994.

  • By 2003, spending was up to $94.3 billion (there is no comparable number for Europe), with 57 percent of that coming from private industry.
  • The National Institutes of Health's current annual research budget is $28 billion, All European Union governments, in contrast, spent $3.7 billion in 2000, and since that time, Europe has not narrowed the research and development gap.
  • America spends more on research and development over all and on drugs in particular, even though the United States has a smaller population than the core European Union countries.
  • From 1989 to 2002, four times as much money was invested in private biotechnology companies in America than in Europe.

Thomas Boehm of Jerini, a biomedical research company in Berlin, argues that the research environment in the United States, compared with Europe, is wealthier, more competitive, more meritocratic and more tolerant of waste and chaos.  He argues that these features lead to more medical discoveries. 

Source: Tyler Cowen, "Poor U.S. Scores in Health Care Don't Measure Nobels and Innovation," New York Times, October 5, 2006.

For text (subscription required):


Browse more articles on Health Issues