Can the U.S. re-emerge as a force in medical innovation?

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That was the question addressed in a symposium held at the Newseum in Washington, DC, Wednesday.

Former House Majority Leader Dick Gephardt (far right) participates in a medical innovation panel discussion Wednesday.

“The goal is not only economic strength and the creation of jobs,” said former House Majority Leader Dick Gephardt, one of many high-level panelists invited to participate at the symposium. “But I firmly believe we will reduce health care costs and make the health care system dramatically more efficient.” Gephardt is the co-Chair of the Council for American Medical Innovation, the sponsor of Wednesday’s event.

“The American people are feeling the erosion of our capacity to innovate,” said former Governor of Utah Mike Leavitt, another panelist. The recommendations given from the various participants for curbing the trend included creating more opportunities for enhanced learning for gifted students including fellowships and special institutions for high school students; creative incentivization for research and development, and an expedited regulation process that protects patients but speeds innovation.

Most panelists agreed that the way the budget is scored in the U.S. is fundamentally broken.

“One out of every two American men will get cancer in their lifetime, and one of every three American women will get cancer in their lifetime,” said Leavitt, adding that despite this we only dedicate $5 billion of our federal budget to cancer. “We spend more than that on candy on Halloween night.”

Newsweek International Editor and CNN Host Fareed Zakaria speaks at a medical innovation symposium in Washington, DC.

“The prediction in 1990 was that by the year 2000, 90 percent of hospital beds would be filled with HIV/AIDS patients,” said George Vradenburg, founder of the non-profit organization U.S. Against Alzheimer’s. But thanks to medical innovation in the areas of treatment and prevention, Vradenburg said, that prediction was not realized, and the U.S. needs to see the importance of that scientific contribution to health care cost reduction in the long run.

Fareed Zakaria, editor of Newsweek International keynote speaker at the event, capped off the symposium by reminding the audience of how the U.S. needs to make investments for growth, despite the challenging landscape we face fighting two wars abroad and fending off a persistent economic recession. He urged a transfer away from consumption spending to major investments in science and technology.

“The evidence is overwhelming that [investment in scientific innovation] is huge bang for the buck. But where does the money come from?” Zakaria asked. One “major” solution he offered – fundamental tax reform that eliminates exemptions and deductions, including interest paid on home mortgages.

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