Ray Woosley, David Feigal and Carl Peck: Which party has a platform plank for more health and less healthcare?
The 2012 Democratic and Republican Party platforms spell out what party leaders believe will address the needs of the American people. However, will they include a plank that acknowledges and addresses the fact that our nation spends more than all others on medical research and healthcare yet still has one of the highest infant mortality rates of developed nations?
Which party will have a plank to improve America’s life expectancy that lags behind scores of other countries? Which has a plank to reverse the tsunamis of obesity-induced diabetes and Alzheimer’s disease? Unfortunately, our nation’s plan seems to be to have no plan. We invest billions in basic biomedical research and leave the development of medical products to the free market. Since our health insurance preferentially pays for treatment of illness, the commercial sector naturally develops new and more expensive illness-care that is often too late to help patients and at a cost that will soon approach 20% of GDP!
In 2010, the Kauffman Foundation assembled a group of the most respected medical and scientific leaders who issued a call for a new era of personalized health; an era in which the country shifts from a focus on treating illness to a greater emphasis on disease prediction and prevention, and on individualized care. The GOP Platform acknowledges that “…prevention is preferable to more costly treatment later on” and supports increased efforts to reduce cost of illnesses related to lifestyle through “greater personal responsibility.” However, the public has neither the scientific direction nor the tools to guide many of their personal health decisions. The continuing controversies over the value of mammography and PSA testing for breast and prostate cancer, respectively, demonstrate the need for better tests and better data that prove their overall benefit. Our bloated and out-of-date clinical trial infrastructure takes decades to evaluate new disease prevention initiatives. Cancer trials take over 2.5 years to plan and 20-40% of the trials never enroll a single patient.
The solution lies in identifying effective means of disease prevention but it will take the equivalent of a “Moon Shot” to change the current direction of our research enterprise. Can we learn from past experience in other fields? When the computer chip industry was in crisis in the 80’s, our government and leading industries joined forces to create SEMATECH, a public private partnership that is credited with saving the US chip industry. We need a biomedical SEMATECH that takes a systems approach and conducts the applied research that will give each of us the tools we need for disease prevention and personalized health. This systems approach would include economic incentives, educational programs and delivery systems to implement the innovations that will enable Americans to remain healthy. Only then will we be able to gain control of the upwardly spiraling healthcare costs.
Which party offers a platform plank that can deliver better health, not just more healthcare? We can do better than “food pyramids” and “watching our salt.”
Op-ed by Ray Woosley, David Feigal and Carl Peck, NDA Partners LLC. Feigal and Peck are former FDA Center Directors and Wooseley is former founding President of Critical Path Institute.