by James P. Pinkerton
November 28, 2016
Sometimes, in the rush of events, the most uplifting news-nuggets are ignored. That is, amidst all the hurly-burly, a hopeful item can be neglected, hiding, as it were, in plain sight. Of course, it doesn’t have to be that way—a new president can change it.
And so it was with President-elect Donald Trump’s November 21 video report to the American people, providing an update on the progress of his presidential transition team. The hottest news in that release was his declaration that yes, indeed, the US would be withdrawing from the Trans-Pacific Partnership. (Sadly, in Washington, DC, it’s newsworthy when a politician actually keeps a campaign promise.)
Yet there were many other portions of Trump’s two-and-a-half-minute address that deserve attention.
One such was his specific emphasis, as he said, on “curing disease,” which opens up the prospect of not only of humanitarian benefits, but also of economic gains.
After praising the diligence and hard work of his transition team members, led by Vice President-elect Mike Pence, Trump said of his germinating policy plans:
My agenda will be based on a simple core principle: Putting America first. Whether it’s producing steel, building cars, or curing disease. [emphasis added]
Most Americans, of course, are familiar with Trump’s emphasis on rebuilding America’s industrial might. And yet the idea of curing disease has long been a part of Making America Great.
Yet unfortunately, in Washington, DC, for the last quarter-century, the focus has been elsewhere. That is, politicians and healthcare policy makers have been preoccupied, pro and con, with health insurance—Clintoncare, Obamacare, and various Republican alternatives—as opposed to health itself.
Now we can all agree that health insurance is vital, even if, of course, the exact nature of that health insurance, public or private, has been a matter of debate.
Yet at the same time, we can quickly see: Health insurance of any kind is only as good as the medical system backing it up. That is, absent the right kind of doctors, hospitals, and medical treatments, health insurance is just a piece of paper; what really matters is whether or not the health system behind that piece of paper can adequately treat or, better yet, cure the actual ailment. If the right medicine exists, then health insurance is truly valuable. And if it doesn’t exist, then insurance is just a futile, albeit compassionate, form of spending.
As a case study, we can recall America’s battle with AIDS. Indeed, as we ponder that scourge, we might be thinking to ourselves: Couldn’t this same mission-focused approach be applied to other diseases?
In the 1980s, not so long ago, AIDS, was a death sentence. That is, the greatest health insurance in the world couldn’t help, for example, famed actor Rock Hudson, who died of the malady in 1985, as well as others with hefty financial resources. As an aside, we can recall that the LGBT community, and their allies, didn’t want more insurance for AIDS patients, they wanted a cure.
And in fact, beginning in the early 90s, improved treatments turned AIDS into a somewhat manageable disease. And today, of course, further improvements have made it possible for millions of HIV-positive Americans, and many more millions around the world, to go about their normal lives.
We can pause to observe: The progress we have made against AIDS was a matter of multivariate design. Yes, the research was spearheaded by brilliant scientists, such as Dr. Robert Gallo and Dr. David Ho. But all those brainiacs were bolstered by billions of dollars in public and private funding, as well as by other significant political actions, leading to major reforms of the oftentimes creaky Food and Drug Administration. Thus, as we can see, medical progress against AIDS was the result of an evolving comprehensive strategy.
And the happy result of this health-strategizing has been millions of life-years gained, with a resulting economic benefit that’s measurable in the trillions of dollars. (If people are working and paying taxes, and are not hospitalized, the monetary benefits for the nation as a whole add up quickly.)
So now we can see that the same sort of comprehensive strategy could be applied, as well, to other maladies.
We can note: In recent years, the Obama administration has acted energetically on such new diseases as the Ebola virus and the Zika virus. And yet sadly, another Obama administration endeavor, Vice President’s Biden’s “cancer moonshot,” hasn’t amounted to much. And that is, for sure, tragic, because about 1.7 million Americans will be diagnosed with cancer this year, and nearly 600,000 will die. The tragedy of each cancer case aside, that’s trillions of dollars in lost potential to the US economy.
So why not do to cancer what we did to AIDS—or better yet, cure cancer, as well as AIDS, completely?
Indeed, back in the middle of the last century, we did just that to polio, in the form of the Salk and Sabin vaccines.
Once again, the humanitarian benefit of widespread vaccination was obvious, and so, too, were the economic gains. The visionary health philanthropist Michael Milken once summarized the win for America:
When I was a child in the early 1950s, economists estimated that by the year 2000, treating polio would cost the United States $100 billion annually. Today’s polio immunization programs cost one thousand times less than that and have virtually eliminated the disease. Thanks to medical research on all diseases and growing awareness of prevention, especially nutrition, we live longer, more active lives with fewer years of disability. In economic terms, improvements in life expectancy added approximately $3.2 trillion per year to America’s wealth over the three decades beginning in 1970, according to University of Chicago economists Kevin Murphy and Robert Topel.
We can add that the same idea—saving lives and saving money—also applies prospectively: That is, if we don’t cure other dreaded diseases, the naton will be consumed in ballooning future healthcare costs. For instance, Newt Gingrich warns that the cost of Alzheimer’s Disease (AD) is on a track to cost the nation, by mid-century, some $20 trillion. And Gingrich has argued, just as strongly, that curing AD, or at least slowing down its onset, would be a huge source of budget savings.
And here we can pause to remind “budget hawks” that the best way to save money on future healthcare expenditures, for such programs as Medicare, is by improving health itself. For example, Rep. Kevin Brady (R-TX), chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee, was absolutely correct when he told The Wall Street Journal that “Medicare’s not the 800-pound gorilla in the budget, it’s the 8,000-pound gorilla.”
Yet even as Brady is correct about the fiscal trend-lines, it’s impossible to ignore the bleak political history of attempts to reform Medicare—namely, Democrats pounce and Republicans are punished at the polls.
So sure surely the best way to put the Medicare “gorilla” on a massive diet is by curing senior diseases, most obviously, AD. After all, as Michael Milken pointed out, having developed the polio vaccine, we now spend 1/1000 of what we would have spent on polio palliatives, such as braces, wheelchairs, and iron lungs. Why not the same for AD, freeing the elderly from the terror of dementia and the nation from the fear of a fiscal tsunami?
Yet there’s still another big category of upside for a Trumpian Cure Strategy: jobs and profits. As Trump also said in his video statement:
I want the next generation of production and innovation to happen right here, on our homeland, America, creating wealth and jobs for American workers.
The value of production and innovation applies to all sectors of the economy, of course, and yet for the moment we can focus on medicine and, also, on medical devices. That is, to the extent that medicine and medical devices are Made in USA, well, that’s a plus for producers, as well as patients.
And so we can add, to our various cure-strategy considerations, the societal and economic value of “medtech” overall, starting with better prosthetics to aid Wounded Warriors and others. Indeed, it doesn’t take imagination, only extrapolation, to see an America where it’s possible routinely to regenerate spinal cords, and even limbs. So for the sake of all of us, let’s make that sooner, rather than later.
Moreover, if we do make such progress, there would be jobs and profits galore, because the market for health goods is, well, planetary.
Zeroing in on the economic value of cures, this author, at Breitbart, has argued that a cure strategy could be the focus of a special kind of enterprise zone. Such an enterprise zone would be boosted by tax incentives, X-Prizes, and other enticements. Of course, with the right kind of pro-entrepreneurial/pro-growth/pro-jobs leadership in Washington, the whole nation could be an enterprise zone.
In fact, as I have argued many times in the past—in 2009, 2010, 2011, 2012, 2013, 2014, 2015 and 2016–a cure strategy would be politically popular, as well as socially and economically beneficial, because, as important as health insurance is to people, they value their more highly their actual health.
Thus we can say: The best treatment is not to need treatment. And we can further say: A cure is less expensive than care; it’s cheaper to beat than to treat.
Yet now, as we look toward the inauguration of a new president in 2017, the time for talk is coming to an end.
Thanks to the vision of President-elect Trump, we are on the verge of an era of deeds, not words. And America’s medical patients—which is to say, 100 percent of us, at one time or another—could be the biggest winners.
— Jim Pinkerton is a former Director of Policy Planning for President George H.W. Bush and senior advisor to Presidential candidate Mike Huckabee. He is currently a Fox News Contributor. This article was originally published at Breitbart.