Bionic Eye Lets The Blind See

A blog about business and economics.
Feb. 15 2013 8:47 AM

Bionic Eyes and "Health Care Costs"

1360936043077
Argus II glasses with embedded camera

Photo courtesy Second Sight

I read an informative piece in the New York Times from Ezekiel Emanuel today delivering the "good news" that health care spending volumes are increasing at a slower pace, a development he characterizes as a slowdown in health care costs.*

Meanwhile, in other news, Second Sight has received Food and Drug Administration approval for the Argus II, a device that lets blind people see. It doesn't fully restore their vision by any means, but it combines a high-quality video camera, digital processing equipment, and an implant capable of stimulating the optic nerves of even severely damaged patients. That gives them some visual perception that could let a previously blind individual see a crosswalk on a street, find the stove and its burners, or other macro-scale objects. It doesn't work for everyone since you need working optical cells, but for patients whose blindness is caused by retina damage, it could be a total gamechanger.

Advertisement

Of course the ability to cure the blind could also lead to "higher health care costs" (cue threatening music). Most likely it won't actually make "health care costs" much higher, simply because the share of the population with severe retina damage is pretty small. But it's still an amazing breakthrough. Restoring the sight of blind people is genuinely miraculous. And further technological breakthroughs to ameliorate more common ailments would be good things, not bad things. Which is why I don't love the rhetoric of health care costs. Inefficiency is costly, and we should strike to purge it from the system. But new cures may be expensive without being costly at all. Blindness is costly. Chronic lower back pain is costly. Cancer is costly. Finding ways to treat these problems will likely lead to the expenditure of funds on the treatments, but that's because the treatments are valuable.

Correction, Feb. 15, 2013: This post originally misspelled Ezekiel Emanuel's last name.

Matthew Yglesias is the executive editor of Vox and author of The Rent Is Too Damn High.

TODAY IN SLATE

Medical Examiner

Here’s Where We Stand With Ebola

Even experienced international disaster responders are shocked at how bad it’s gotten.

It’s Not Easy for Me, but I Stand With Emma Watson on Women’s Rights

Divestment Is Fine but Mostly Symbolic. There’s a Better Way for Universities to Fight Climate Change.

Subprime Loans Are Back

And believe it or not, that’s a good thing.

It Is Very Stupid to Compare Hope Solo to Ray Rice

Building a Better Workplace

In Defense of HR

Startups and small businesses shouldn’t skip over a human resources department.

Why Are Lighter-Skinned Latinos and Asians More Likely to Vote Republican?

How Ted Cruz and Scott Brown Misunderstand What It Means to Be an American Citizen

  News & Politics
Politics
Sept. 22 2014 6:30 PM What Does It Mean to Be an American? Ted Cruz and Scott Brown think it’s about ideology. It’s really about culture.
  Business
Business Insider
Sept. 23 2014 10:03 AM Watch Steve Jobs Tell Michael Dell, "We're Coming After You"
  Life
The Vault
Sept. 23 2014 10:24 AM How Bad Are Your Drinking Habits? An 18th-Century Temperance Thermometer Has the Verdict
  Double X
The XX Factor
Sept. 22 2014 7:43 PM Emma Watson Threatened With Nude Photo Leak for Speaking Out About Women's Equality
  Slate Plus
Slate Plus
Sept. 22 2014 1:52 PM Tell Us What You Think About Slate Plus Help us improve our new membership program.
  Arts
Brow Beat
Sept. 23 2014 9:42 AM Listen to the Surprising New Single From Kendrick Lamar
  Technology
Future Tense
Sept. 22 2014 6:27 PM Should We All Be Learning How to Type in Virtual Reality?
  Health & Science
Bad Astronomy
Sept. 23 2014 7:00 AM I Stand With Emma Watson
  Sports
Sports Nut
Sept. 18 2014 11:42 AM Grandmaster Clash One of the most amazing feats in chess history just happened, and no one noticed.