Medicare Would Rather Buy $8000 Computer than $150 iPhone App [Politics]

15 Sep

Say that, all things equal, you could fix a problem for $8000 or fix the same problem for $150. Which would you choose? Clearly, you are not Medicare.

Proloquo2Go is a text-to-speech iPhone app that's meant to aid those with autism, cerebral palsy, ALS, Down Syndrome—pretty much anyone who has a disability that makes speaking a difficult venture. It costs $150.

But Medicare/Medicaid restrictions won't pay for this software or the accompanying iPhone because the iPhone is not a uni-functional device. (A person with autism might play games on it, after all! Or call a doctor!)

One family's alternative, as documented by the NYTimes, is a government-funded $8000 desktop computer that can have no other function than text-to-speech. No emailing doctors. No browsing the web for medical research. So, this pricey clunker sits at home while the family pays out of pocket for the iPhone app that can operate in their real, mobile life.

Medicare acknowledges the situation. They have heard of the iPhone, as they explain in their official statement on the matter: "We would not cover the iPhones and netbooks with speech-generating software capabilities because they are useful in the absence of an illness or injury."

But with the nation's eyes on our healthcare policies, there's never been a better time to reassess such archaic thinking. All things equal, a company like Apple or RIM will always make superior hardware to that of some boutique electronics company, and they'll do so for pennies on the dollar. Even more importantly, these better distributed hardware platforms will be rewarded with greater enthusiasm and expertise from software designers—the real innovators in today's design-heavy electronics industry.

I'm no health care expert, but it's obvious that reform in this sector would be a win-win. Taxpayers would save money. Government programs would aid more individuals. And those being helped would simply be helped better, with more options and ultimately in a way more specific to their particular problem.

But the government can't subsidize a semi-open platform that would drive both technological innovation and market competition. That's crazy talk! [Proloquo2Go and NYTimes]