News Analysis
The Year Ahead
and Finance
Science, Technology,
and Medicine
Policy, Society,
and Ethics
Common Sense
Editor's Letter


Band-Aids on Broken Bones

Piecemeal solutions won�t solve the nation�s health care crisis.

Eric Greenberg

The United States has one of the best health care systems in the world for those who can afford it or have access to it. Unfortunately, more than 40 million citizens do not have acceptable access, and there is a growing tendency to address our health care problems with piecemeal solutions. This is akin to applying Band-Aids to broken bones. Our leadership must make a bipartisan effort to build a complete solution for our long-term health care needs. Our political system will not be able to survive without an effective public health program.

Health care, of course, is a huge part of the domestic agenda, and politicians from both sides are addressing the macro issue with a hodgepodge of incongruent initiatives to demonstrate they are doing something, when in reality they are doing more harm than good. Our leadership must make a bipartisan effort to build an entire solution to our long-term needs and current problems.

Examples of Band-Aids are everywhere. Re-importation to reduce drug costs is nothing more than a failure to implement a worldwide drug-pricing treaty, and all it does is rationalize costs for the few in unregulated U.S. markets with other markets that have price controls. Through re-importation, people with access to other countries get discounts mandated by other governments; the effect of lowering their prices is good. This is damaging to the biopharmaceutical industry�s ability to afford innovation. Supporters say that the macro numbers are inconsequential, so they are inadvertently acknowledging that they are creating a type of have and have-not situation, as those with access are limited. Further, there is a high likelihood that drugs can be counterfeit. To have a safe system, strong U.S. Food and Drug Administration requirements must be in place for manufacturing and distribution. In Mexico, for example, where drug lords and corruption are common, what is to say that a Viagra pill is authentic and not a poorly regulated stimulant from Colombia? Simply, our safety is compromised by the weakest link in the systems of others. Another example is the Medicare prescription drug benefit, which puts power in private industry�s hands, subsidized by public money. This law has good intent and addresses a real need, but it is a patch not addressing the bigger issue of affordable, high-quality health care. It has gone through terrible political machinations and may be unsustainable over the long term.

I am not an advocate of a universal public health care system, however. Our allies that have adopted these systems have access and quality issues that are unacceptable due to a host of constraints that inevitably result in one-size-fits-all solutions.

We must apply pressure to our elected leaders to put partisanship aside. My mother is eligible for Social Security and Medicare but has been hung up from receiving any benefits for more than 18 months, and has no means of support other than me. She has had two expensive life-threatening diseases that I paid, in cash, to have cured. The relevant agencies tell us it just takes time; if it were not for me, she would be dead. She is lucky to have an affluent son, but how many people do not, and have died because of �the system�?

We cannot continue along the same path and enjoy political stability. We must build a bipartisan solution for affordable, accessible health care without pork, and we must make our current process function as intended, eliminating red tape and overhead, so the majority of money spent on health care is for providing care—not administration, which is 60% of current spending.