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Public Health at Risk: Don’t Cut Programs that Work

December 12, 2012
In order to avoid the "fiscal cliff," the Congress must compromise and protect our economic future by cutting costs and raising revenue, without compromising our nation's support for critical government programs. Programs vital to the health of our nation – quite literally - should not suffer dramatic cuts. Making cuts to these programs could actually cost our nation more in the long run. The unintended consequences could impact our economic health, as well as our public health.

Investment in biomedical innovation leads to the development and approval of new therapies and medical devices. Additionally, these programs (such as funding for the National Institutes of Health and the Food and Drug Administration) help to fuel an important sector of the U.S. economy, providing high quality 21st century jobs in a field where American intellectual capital and ingenuity continues to lead globally. Making reductions in these investments, however, could have the opposite effect, delaying critical treatments and cures for sick patients and leading to a decline in global leadership.

Reforming entitlement programs has been proposed as a way to deal with the "fiscal cliff."  If Medicare is considered for reform, the Congress should avoid any proposal that threatens patient access to therapies, such as reducing physician reimbursement. In 2003, reforms to Medicare Part B helped ensure patient access to therapies administered in physicians' offices. Medicare Part B continues to provide an invaluable route of access to therapies for patients facing grievous illnesses such as multiple sclerosis, cancer, and rheumatoid arthritis. The Medicare Part D program that enables seniors to purchase prescription drug policies to suit their needs should not be reformed in a way that threatens the program’s success. Since its enactment, Medicare Part D has cost less than originally predicted and seniors are overwhelmingly satisfied with the program. The Congress must ensure these worthy programs continue to operate efficiently and effectively.

Instead, the reimbursement conversation must be focused on discovering cures and treatments. There are 10,000 baby boomers entering Medicare everyday for the next 20 years. If fewer of them were sick from cardiovascular disease, Cancer, Alzheimer’s disease, diabetes and other diseases, Medicare costs would be driven down astronomically. For example, delaying the onset of diabetes by even five years would save Medicare $50 billion a year. Patients are counting on these breakthroughs, and the Congress should protect incentives to encourage innovation that could lead to cures and treatments.

In making decisions about which programs to consolidate and how best to address the economic challenge facing our country, policymakers must act judiciously and prioritize the long-term health of our nation.