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Joseph Rago RIP

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Wall Street Journal editorial writer Joe Rago died this week at the age of 34. If you read the Review and Outlook editorials--the unsigned editorials that are published on the left hand side of the editorial page and reflect the views of the editors--chances are the ones you read about health care in the last few years were written by Joe. The Journal published highlights from some of his editorials but unfortunately they are gated. Here are some highlights, followed by my personal reminiscence. From "The Obamacare Crossroads," March 20, 2010, just before the bill was passed by the House of Representatives:Democrats are on the cusp of a profound and historic mistake, comparable in our view to the

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Wall Street Journal editorial writer Joe Rago died this week at the age of 34. If you read the Review and Outlook editorials--the unsigned editorials that are published on the left hand side of the editorial page and reflect the views of the editors--chances are the ones you read about health care in the last few years were written by Joe.

The Journal published highlights from some of his editorials but unfortunately they are gated.

Here are some highlights, followed by my personal reminiscence.

From "The Obamacare Crossroads," March 20, 2010, just before the bill was passed by the House of Representatives:

Democrats are on the cusp of a profound and historic mistake, comparable in our view to the Smoot-Hawley tariff and FDR's National Industrial Recovery Act. Everyone is preoccupied now with the politics, but ultimately at stake on Sunday is the kind of country America will be. . . .

In our world of infinite wants but finite resources, there are only two ways to allocate any good or service: either through prices and the choices of millions of individuals, or through central government planning and political discretion. This choice is inexorable. Stripped of its romantic illusions, ObamaCare is really about who commands the country's medical resources. . . .

A self-governing democracy can of course decide that it wants to become this kind of super-welfare state. But if the year-long debate over ObamaCare has proven anything, it is that Americans want no such thing. . . . The ugliness of the bill, and of its passage, means that some or all of it might be repealable, but far better not to make the tragic mistake in the first place.


From "Race Against the Cure," June 29, 2011:
More broadly, the Avastin fight is about the FDA and its desire to more tightly control the development of cancer drugs. Avastin was initially approved under the FDA's "accelerated approval" process that is supposed to speed treatments for terminal illnesses and unmet medical needs. Dr. Pazdur, the New England Journal of Medicine and the rest of the medical-political establishment have decided that accelerated approval's flexibility is too friendly to commercial drug developers, and in Avastin they've found a pretext to gut it.

The FDA's anti-Avastin campaign is enforcing a culture of research and development that will discourage the innovation, investment and risk-taking that will be necessary to produce the next generation of cancer treatments. More imminently, thousands of women may die more quickly and live with more pain because government regulators substitute their own opinions about clinical meaningfulness for those of oncologists and their patients.


From "The Political John Roberts," June 26, 2015:
For the second time in three years, Chief Justice John Roberts has rewritten the Affordable Care Act in order to save it. Beyond its implications for health care, the Court's 6-3 ruling in King v. Burwell is a landmark that betrays the Chief's vow to be "an umpire," not a legislator in robes. He stands revealed as a most political Justice. . . .

Justice Scalia quips acidly that "we should start calling this law SCOTUScare," but the better term is RobertsCare. By volunteering as Nancy Pelosi's copy editor, he is making her infamous line about passing the law to find out what's in it even more true than she knew at the time.


I met Joe only once, when he was at Hoover for a week and I drove up to see him. We had a very pleasant talk, mainly about health care and health economics. I tried unsuccessfully to talk him out of his view that Medicare should be so open-ended, paying for edge-of-the-envelope treatments and paying so much for people whose health indicators suggested strongly that they were in the last few months of life. He did agree, though that that was a big driver of increasing Medicare spending.

My favorite pieces by him were on the FDA. I will miss him and his work.



David Henderson
David Henderson is a British economist. He was the Head of the Economics and Statistics Department at the OECD in 1984–1992. Before that he worked as an academic economist in Britain, first at Oxford (Fellow of Lincoln College) and later at University College London (Professor of Economics, 1975–1983); as a British civil servant (first as an Economic Advisor in HM Treasury, and later as Chief Economist in the Ministry of Aviation); and as a staff member of the World Bank (1969–1975). In 1985 he gave the BBC Reith Lectures, which were published in the book Innocence and Design: The Influence of Economic Ideas on Policy (Blackwell, 1986).

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