Both sides of the aisle in Congress have made much of the potential for preventive medicine. The thinking is that if doctors catch an illness early, it can be treated at less cost. In his speech to Congress on health care, President Obama said that under his plan, “companies will be required to cover, with no extra charge, routine checkups and preventive care, like mammograms and colonoscopies-because there’s no reason we shouldn’t be catching diseases like breast cancer and colon cancer before they get worse. That makes sense, it saves money, and it saves lives.” Essentially, the president intends to mandate unneeded procedures. Further along in his speech, Obama scolded doctors for “defensive medicine [that] may be contributing to unnecessary costs.” So what the President is saying, is that he is allowed to mandate unneeded medical procedures, but doctors are not.
Here’s the catch with preventative medicine, it won’t save money. For example, say the U.S. mandated a full-body MRI for everyone once a year. There are only enough MRI machines in the United States to give every American access to one for 13.6 minutes. But even the fastest MRI machines take longer than 15 minutes to perform a full-body scan. And that assumes that the MRI machines can be run nonstop throughout the year and never break down, no one gets hurt, no one has symptoms, and there are no foreigners coming to the U.S. for medical care (sorry, Canadians, you’re out). Yes, the president didn’t mention MRIs in his speech, but colonoscopies and mammograms use an even scarcer and more vital resource: doctors’ time. The reality is that the best preventive care is an individual choice, eating a healthy diet and exercising, not government mandates.