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New York Times
June 23, 2009
America’s Health Care Priorities IV: Businesses, Competition and Innovation
By Catherine Rampell
Economix asked all sorts of health care experts and stakeholders this question: What should the priorities for health care reform be?
We are running their responses in loosely-themed batches throughout the day. The third batch - about businesses, competition and innovation - is below. Find other proposals from economists, patient and consumer advocates, doctors, insurance companies, tax and public finance experts and more here.
Controlling Chronic Diseases
Billy Tauzin is the president and chief executive of Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America (PhRMA). He is a former United States congressman from Louisiana.
A flurry of activity is taking place on Capitol Hill as Congress explores ways to hold down the cost of health care reform. President Obama has repeatedly stressed that as a nation, we spend more than $2 trillion a year on health care yet many patients are not getting the quality care they need to better fight their disease. While many proposals have been put on the table to help address these concerns, one extremely promising topic must stay front and center in the debate: reducing the devastating impact of chronic disease.
Collectively, chronic diseases like cancer, diabetes and heart disease are the greatest drivers of health care spending in the United States. They hurt the American economy and, most importantly, they affect the health, well-being and productivity of millions of Americans.
If we don't act soon to better equip ourselves to win the fight against the growing epidemic of chronic disease, our health care security - and economic security - will surely continue to be threatened.
This is the problem: 75 percent of all health care spending in the United States involves the treatment of chronic disease. In America, more than 162 million cases of seven chronic diseases were reported in 2003. The annual cost of treatment for just those seven chronic diseases was $277 billion. The costs associated with lost productivity were even greater: $1 trillion, for a total cost of $1.3 trillion.
We now live in a country where more than half the adult population is overweight, and obesity is an ever-growing problem. Current obesity trends are frightening: If they continue - to cite just one shocking example - one of every three children born in 2000 will get diabetes in his or her lifetime.
It is well-known that exercise, healthy eating and medicines can help prevent and manage diabetes. The good news is that there are chronic disease management programs that are gaining more traction around the country - like the Diabetes Ten City Challenge – that offer free screenings and medicines to participants suffering from diabetes. These programs are modeled from the Asheville Project in North Carolina, a diabetes management program that helped patients bring their blood sugar under control within a year and yielded an average 34 percent savings in health care costs.
Such innovative initiatives bring together public officials, local businesses, health care professionals and patients. The value differs for each participant, but they all share a common goal: reducing the effects of disease. If pursued on a nationwide scale, such approaches offer great promise to significantly improve patient care and decrease costs.
At this point in the health reform process, it's all about the numbers. While the Congressional Budget Office has begun to score health reform proposals to help calculate the price tag for reform, it hasn't scored the potential savings to the federal government of chronic disease prevention and management programs. It's admittedly difficult to quantify the long-term impact of prevention initiatives, but we are seeing more and more evidence from smaller-scale programs like the Ten City Challenge of the potential economic impact of such coordinated approaches. We believe such programs are critical long-term investments that will help bend the curve and also improve and save lives.
We firmly encourage Congress and the administration to ensure that prevention and wellness remain core principles of health care reform - and we remain committed to working with all stakeholders to help enact a health reform bill this year that ensures all Americans have access to high-quality and affordable health care coverage.