We can learn a lot from Jonas Salk

Published 10:10 am Saturday, July 25, 2009

In 1952, Polio was killing more Americans than any other communicable disease. With over 300,000 cases and 58,000 deaths reported that year, Polio was widely-considered an epidemic, and many thought there was no hope.

It seemed unthinkable that three short years later a man named Jonas Salk would transform the future of health care in America. His vaccine for Polio eradicated what was once our nation’s most frightening public health problem. His breakthrough is regarded as a national challenge solved through innovation.

We are in a situation today not that dissimilar from Jonas Salk’s era. In the age of Polio, many were quick to write-off a solution to Polio. Today, our feelings toward the current health care challenges are the same — the problem is enormous and it seems implausible that our challenge would be solved with one agreeable solution.

Looking at the evidence, it is clear our nation is about to enter a new age in health care. We are teetering on a precarious ledge of government takeover of health care. The over 1,000-page bill would raise taxes on businesses and individuals, while attempting to control costs through regulation and rationing. It would place Washington in between the decisions of patients and their doctors.

We need to make a shift in Washington. We need to get out of the business of buying into government-run “solutions” that only intensify the problem through higher taxes and less choice in our individual lives and only get us deeper into debt. We need a new direction for solving America’s health care challenges. The questions before us are: What are we going to choose to define our new age in health care? Will we rely on the government? Or will we grab hold of the opportunity to take a Jonas Salk-approach by relying on innovation to carry us through to a new age in health care?

We can create a new era in medical discovery if we choose the latter. We need a plan that will set America on a path toward a new health care future that is modeled on innovation, technology and discovery. I’ve created a health care solution rooted in the following six pillars of innovation:

Innovation in Cures

The National Institutes of Health holds distinctions in public sector innovation and excellence rivaled only by the Department of Defense and NASA. The NIH is an engine of America competitiveness, training our nation’s current and next generation of researchers to ensure that American medical innovation remains strong.

We need to double funding for NIH medical research with near-term benefit for patients suffering from diseases such as cancer, diabetes, heart disease, Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s.

Innovation in Choice

Creating a health care market exchange where citizens can easily compare cost and coverage of private insurance options would open competition in health care plans and increase health care coverage.

Innovation in Transparency

We should require full disclosure of all price and de-identified patient quality information from all government health programs — Medicare, Medicaid, Veterans Affairs and the health insurance program for federal employees — for all providers, suppliers, and health insurers that do business with the federal government, increasing transparency and thereby increasing competition and reducing cost.

Innovation in Quality

Medical trials have shown that improving the quality of care by reducing medical errors could reduce health care costs up to $17 billion a year in the U.S. By investing in virtual hands-on training for medical professionals, we have the ability to reduce medical errors.

Innovation in Efficiency

We could save $30 billion in costs across the nation by moving to an electronic-based medical system.

Innovation in Coverage

Affordable health insurance is one of the most crucial issues facing employees of our nation’s small businesses. By creating Association Health Plans, small businesses could join together to buy much-needed health insurance at rates significantly lower than individuals could purchase independently.

It’s not too late to turn the debate in Washington. Instead of instituting a government-run plan that would disrupt the employer-based coverage in which 170 million Americans rely, turn back the clock on quality and innovation, and ultimately lead to a fiscal catastrophe, let’s chart the course to a new era in American medical discovery and innovation. We have the proven ability to kindle scientific potential into medical transformation. The question is whether we will seize on this potential.