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

History

The Self-Made Man

The story of America’s most pliable, pernicious, irrepressible myth.

Michigan’s Tradition of Football “Toughness” Needs to Go—Starting With Coach Hoke

Does Your Child Have “Sluggish Cognitive Tempo”? Or Is That Just a Disorder Made Up to Scare You?

The First Case of Ebola in America Has Been Diagnosed in Dallas

Why Indians in America Are Mad for India’s New Prime Minister

Damned Spot

Now Stare. Don’t Stop.

The perfect political wife’s loving gaze in campaign ads.

Building a Better Workplace

You Deserve a Pre-cation

The smartest job perk you’ve never heard of.

The GOP Senate Candidate in Iowa Doesn’t Want Voters to Know Just How Conservative She Really Is

Parents, Get Your Teenage Daughters the IUD

The XX Factor
Sept. 30 2014 12:34 PM Parents, Get Your Teenage Daughters the IUD
  News & Politics
Politics
Sept. 30 2014 5:19 PM Social Outcasts Republican candidates are retreating from debates on abortion, gay marriage, and contraception.
  Business
Building a Better Workplace
Sept. 30 2014 1:16 PM You Deserve a Pre-cation The smartest job perk you’ve never heard of.
  Life
Education
Sept. 30 2014 1:48 PM Thrashed Florida State’s new president is underqualified and mistrusted. But here’s how he can turn it around.
  Double X
The XX Factor
Sept. 30 2014 12:34 PM Parents, Get Your Teenage Daughters the IUD
  Slate Plus
Behind the Scenes
Sept. 30 2014 3:21 PM Meet Jordan Weissmann Five questions with Slate’s senior business and economics correspondent.
  Arts
Brow Beat
Sept. 30 2014 4:45 PM Steven Soderbergh Is Doing Some Next-Level Work on The Knick
  Technology
Future Tense
Sept. 30 2014 5:47 PM California Gov. Vetoes Bill Requiring Warrant for Police Surveillance Drones
  Health & Science
Bad Astronomy
Sept. 30 2014 7:30 AM What Lurks Beneath the Methane Lakes of Titan?
  Sports
Sports Nut
Sept. 30 2014 5:54 PM Goodbye, Tough Guy It’s time for Michigan to fire its toughness-obsessed coach, Brady Hoke.