Which do you think is less expensive, not to mention preferable: a cure for cancer, Alzheimer's disease and diabetes, or caring for people with these diseases? Wouldn't it be better medical and public policy to direct more resources toward finding a cure for diseases that cost a lot to treat than to rely on a government insurance program, such as Obamacare, which seeks mainly to help pay the bills for people after they become ill?
Isn't the answer obvious? Apparently not to many politicians trapped in an old paradigm that focuses too much on hospitals, doctors and medicines and too little on medical research and preventive care so that people will not need hospitals, doctors or medicines.
The pursuit of cures as a priority is a subject that has been taken up by my colleague James Pinkerton in his forthcoming book entitled "Serious Medicine Strategy" and on his blog at www.seriousmedicinestrategy.org.
It's not that we are failing to fund research to cure diseases that end lives too early. Rather, it is a failure of political leadership to make research a priority in their speeches and policies. Think back more than 50 years ago to when the political and medical communities united and led the public toward a cure for polio and the elimination of the need for "iron lungs." This Herculean effort was the medical equivalent of going to the moon.
Why can't we create a united front to find cures for diabetes, Alzheimer's, cancer and other ailments? Pinkerton believes it's because of "the baneful influence of the Food and Drug Administration and the trial lawyers. If the government would protect the ability of entrepreneurs and scientists to create products without getting sued into oblivion, capital would come pouring into the pharma sector, not only from American investors, but from investors around the world." That's because, he notes, people in Europe and Asia now suffer from the same diseases as Americans.
Republicans, especially, should pick up on this strategy of cures before care. Instead, most Republicans are singularly focused on repealing the president's health care "reform" law. It should be repealed, or at least experience an extreme makeover, but repealing that law doesn't cure anyone of anything. And here's the double benefit that Obamacare claims for itself, which can never materialize. Finding cures for diseases helps people live healthier lives, and it's cost efficient. Look at the money saved from no longer having to treat victims of polio, smallpox and tuberculosis. Imagine the savings when a cure is eventually found for cancer. Plus, the retirement age could be easily raised as older people work longer and live more vigorous, productive (and tax-generating) lives.
What's not to like about any of this? Republican presidential candidates in 2012 -- and a Republican president should the GOP win that election -- could change the direction and content of the entire health care debate, if they fashioned a strategy for going to the "medical moon" by a certain and attainable date. We are close to a cure for some diseases, but far from a cure for others. Let's begin with those closest to a cure.
Ask yourself: would you rather be healthy and fit and live a long life, or be taken care of in your illness by a government health system that sees you as a burden and is constantly trying to reduce care and lower costs? Ask the English, who are currently experiencing the downside to poor care.
The problem is that once a nation has made a wrong turn, it is difficult if not impossible to reverse course. America still has time to make the right choice and move in the direction of cures. Now all we need is the political leadership to point the way.
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