The Republican field is obsessed with rolling back Obamacare. One candidate is, at least willing to discuss the real enemy: chronic disease.
“The next president,” said former Arkansas governor Mike Huckabee at the last debate, “ought to declare a war on cancer, heart disease, diabetes, and Alzheimer’s.”
This is a fight that all candidates — Democrats and Republicans alike — should embrace. Health care is very expensive, and roughly 85 percent of all healthcare spending is dedicated to treating chronic disease.
Thus far, however, the major candidates have ignored this issue.
Consider the Republican field. The candidates’ positions are virtually indistinguishable and amount to a simple catch phrase: “repeal and replace.” What that replacement would look like, though, remains shrouded in mystery.
On the Democratic side, the pharmaceutical industry is under scrutiny for rising healthcare costs.
Never mind the fact that prescription drugs account for just 10 percent of healthcare spending — a figure that has been steady for several decades. Or that innovative new medicines tend to lower long-term healthcare costs by keeping people healthy and out of the hospital.
In September, Hillary Clinton came forward with a plan that would reduce intellectual property protections for advanced biologic drugs, intervene in Medicare’s drug benefit, and legalize the importation of drugs from countries with price controls.
These proposals won’t stop healthcare costs from rising, but they could stifle the innovation and research we need to lick chronic diseases once and for all.
Europe has already experimented with similar policies and the results speak for themselves. In the 1970s, Europe developed about 54 percent of all new drugs, while U.S. firms created 31 percent.
Then European countries imposed drug price caps. The United States didn’t. Today, U.S. firms develop about 6 of every 10 new drugs created worldwide. Europe produces just a third of all new medicines.
Admittedly, European-style price controls would slow the growth of pharmaceutical spending. But nothing cuts long-term spending like a cure. The hepatitis C drug Sovaldi has made headlines this year for its high cost — $84,000 — of a course of treatment. But unlike its predecessors, Sovaldi actually cures Hepatitis C and saves the high costs of complications, including transplants.
We need similar advances in the fight against chronic diseases. And with the average new drug costing some $2.6 billion to bring to market, the investments required for that fight wouldn’t be made if America, like Europe, chooses to artificially set the price of drugs. The lion’s share of drug innovation will always come from the private sector, and no doubt drug companies are already spending heavily in these areas.
We would hope that the conversation and debate, on both sides of the aisle, be focused, more on healthcare in general and chronic disease in specific. Organizations like the National Institutes of Health have a critical role to play in spurring new research in these fields. To that end, we call on the candidates to support increased funding for the NIH.
Winning the fight against chronic disease will bring spending under control. But even more importantly, it will improve the lives of millions of Americans.
Larry Hausner is chief patient advocate of the Partnership to Fight Chronic Disease.