Friday, February 17, 2006

By the Grace of God, Free Markets Are Healing the Blind

In the Bible, one of the miracles used by the Prophets, Jesus and the Apostles to demonstrate their divine calling was the healing of the blind. One of the plagues of the fallen creation is the loss of the ability to see. I have numerous friends and relatives with vision problems, including an uncle who was totally blind. Since 1975, I have been continually reminded of the blessing of sight because I have been unable to see clearly in my right eye. As recently as last summer, I was told that nothing could be done to remove the scarring from my right cornea short of a $50,000 cornea transplant that had a significant chance of failure. One entrepreneur has changed all of that.

Dr. Ming Wang of Nashville, Tennessee performed a procedure that lasted a scant 20 seconds and even though the recovery period is supposed to be two to four months, I was seeing like I have not seen in 30 years in less than two weeks. Dr. Wang developed the procedure and is continually developing new procedures and hardware to do things that are still believed impossible in some places. The best news is that it cost me less than one tenth of what a cornea transplant would cost and the success rate is much higher to boot.

The really amazing story is that of the entrepreneurial spirit of Dr. Wang, the business model for his Wang Vision Center, and how he came to be a Surgeon and a Laser Physicist. Dr. Wang grew up in Communist China. Although his parents were physicians, they refused to join the Communist Party and were ostracized. As a result, their son, Ming, was denied the opportunity for a formal education after he turned 14 and had graduated from junior high school. In the days of the Cultural Revolution, people not destined to be educated were shipped to the remote provinces to become peasant agricultural laborers. One method of avoiding this fate was to acquire and practice a skill that was approved by the Communist Party. Displaying a flash of his developing entrepreneurial spirit, young Ming Wang learned to play the Er-hu, an ancient Chinese stringed instrument known here as the Chinese violin. This did not get him a comfortable seat in the national orchestra, however. While avoiding peasant labor, he had to play the Er-hu on a street corner in Beijing 15 hours per day rain or shine.

As the Cultural revolution waned and the restrictions eased, Ming was afforded the opportunity again to further his education. He still faced an obstacle. He had to pass entrance examinations. Because he was now years behind in his formal education, he would have been at a severe disadvantage except that he had been receiving instruction at home. Yes, apparently homeschooling worked well even in Communist China. With tutoring from his parents and their colleagues at the medical institute where they taught, he placed fourth in the nation and was admitted to higher education.

After a chance meeting with an American college professor, Ming was given the opportunity to come to The United States. He arrived on February 3, 1982 with $50 in his pocket and as he puts it, "faith in the American Dream." Like the runner who has been shackled with weights for years and suddenly finds himself free of them, he ran like the wind. What was once his handicap is now his strength. Ming Wang graduated magna cum laude from Harvard Medical School and MIT with an M.D. and a Ph.D. in Laser Physics.

Now Dr. Wang has his own business called the Wang Vision Institute. Of all of the doctors' offices I have visited, this one is a model of efficiency. There is no great wall (no pun intended) of medical records primarily kept to satisfy insurance companies. In fact, The Wang Vision Institute will not file insurance claims. Did you ever wonder what that small administrative army costs in you local physician's office? There is also a big difference from the many doctor's offices in Tennessee that are choked with TennCare patients with minor sniffles or other trivial ailments because seeing the doctor is "free" (Tennessee got Hillary's heath care plan even if the rest of the nation escaped it and it has been an unmitigated disaster to the quality of health care in the state). Dr. Wang's staff is extremely professional and courteous. His staff includes several ophthalmologists, and technicians who I am sure he has hand-picked for their skill and proficiency.

Dr. Wang also partitions his time such that he is able to perform initial evaluations, surgeries, and followup visits as well as research into pioneering new procedures and surgical tools. This would not be possible except that he runs his office as a business. I would hope and pray that more physicians would take up this model



For greatest efficiency, lowest cost and maximum choice, ALL hospitals and health insurance schemes should be privately owned and run -- with government-paid vouchers for the very poor and minimal regulation. Both Australia and Sweden have large private sector health systems with government reimbursement for privately-provided services so can a purely private system with some level of government reimbursement or insurance for the poor be so hard to do?

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