The debate isn't new, but as the country awaits the U.S. Supreme Court's decision on the constitutionality of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, commonly called Obamacare, suppose the conversation switched from a health care system devoted primarily to caring for the sick to one that gives top priority to finding cures for disease? A healthier public would sharply reduce expenses associated with catastrophic illness.
There is also the issue of prevention so that while cures are pursued through research, people might order their lives in ways that give them the best chance of avoiding sickness altogether.
A useful starting point is a paper published in 2009 by Partnership for Prevention (www.prevent.org), "A nonpartisan organization of business, nonprofit and government leaders working to make evidence-based disease prevention and health promotion a national priority." The paper was titled "The Economic Argument for Disease Prevention: Distinguishing Between Value and Savings."
The authors -- three doctors and an executive consultant with an MBA -- write, "There are three kinds of prevention. Primary prevention can be accomplished by modifying unhealthy behaviors (e.g., smoking, physical inactivity), which cause many diseases and account for 38 percent of all deaths in the United States, administering immunizations to prevent infectious diseases, and reducing exposure to harmful environmental factors. Secondary prevention can reduce the severity of diseases, such as cancer and heart disease, through screening programs that detect the diseases or their risk factors at early stages, before they become symptomatic or disabling. Tertiary prevention -- the effort to avoid or defer the complications of diseases after they have developed -- is the current focus of medical care."
That focus on tertiary prevention is the driving force behind rising health care costs.
As baby boomers age, the cost of treating the rising number of diseases and common illnesses attributable to aging will increase. Finding cures is the most logical approach to keeping health care costs in check.
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