An Innovation Election

10/07/2010 10:32 am ET | Updated May 25, 2011
  • Doug Schoen Founding Partner; Penn, Schoen, and Berland

With Rasmussen Reports data released last week that shows that voters think that the economy and health care are the two most important issues facing the country -- 86% say the economy and 76% say health care -- it is clear that these issues will play a large role in the midterm elections that will take place four weeks from today.

Voters are frustrated with the current approaches that have been taken to improve the economy and the health care system, and they are looking for bold, bipartisan, results-oriented solutions.

The anger and frustration that has been expressed by Americans around the country in response to the current state of the economy and our health care system only underscore what has already become clear. The U.S. will need to innovate, rather than just cost contain, its way out of the economic slowdown, particularly through innovation in health care.

Health care and the economy are inextricably linked. Our country's health sector accounts for more than 17% of gross domestic product. While most sectors have dropped jobs in the past months, health care has continued to add them. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics approximates that since the beginning of the recession, the health sector has added more than 700,000 jobs.

Further, between 2006 and 2016, health care and biomedical industries are expected to create 3 million new jobs - more than any other industry. The jobs and new businesses related to this essential field correspond to a variety of well-paid positions in the academic, business, science and health services worlds.

Innovation usually requires spending, and government spending has been under scrutiny as the economic recovery is uncertain and frail. Government organizations are faced with the difficult task of finding ways to save and reduce costs in a sustainable manner, while innovating to respond to our society's evolving needs.

Thus, one of the biggest challenges and responsibilities we face is balancing innovation with cost containment. Many of our politicians have advocated popular measures that focus on short-term cost containment, rather than measures that would improve the quality of health care and the state of our economy in the long term. We need focus on making enduring investments in medical innovation and research, which will provide long-term benefits not only to the health of our people, but also to the success of our economy.

In the last 30 years, we have become the world leader in biomedical development because of our world-class medical innovation. Now, the United States is undoubtedly at risk of losing its competitive edge. Other countries understand the power of medical innovation. Japan has already employed long-term plans to advance their competitiveness in medical research, and countries like China and India are not far behind. We may have lost our auto industry and our computer industry to Asia, but we must hold onto our pre-eminence in biomedical science.

America's economic leadership in medical innovation is indispensable to our economy and well being as a nation. We must take the best of what works and innovate our way through the health and economic crises.

Thus, we must put forth practical, pro-growth policies that will create jobs and stimulate life-saving research and treatments. Simply put, this is our country's greatest hope to come out from the economic recession healthier, stronger, and more competitive.

We need a coordinated effort at the federal and state levels to address these challenges. We must improve our science education at all levels of schooling, adequately fund medical research, especially in the areas most needed or the areas where the benefits would matter most, and remove barriers like litigation and red tape. We must take measures to make the FDA quicker and more competent, and we need to develop directed incentives that reward achievement.

We must also invest in quality assessment and management. By investing in health information technology that allows hospitals and clinics to measure quality of care, medical professionals can determine what innovations improve the cost-effectiveness of care, and implement these practices.

There are huge opportunities for innovation in diagnostics, devices, delivery systems, and of course, medicines. Scientists have discovered and developed over 300 entirely new medicines and vaccines to treat over 150 conditions since 1990. These new medicines treat a wide array of sicknesses from infectious to chronic diseases.

New medicines prevent or slow the advancement of many diseases and make it possible to avoid surgery and hospitalization. Between 1980 and 2000, the number of days spent in hospitals dropped by 56%. Consequently, Americans avoided 206 million days of hospital care in 2000 thanks to investments in health care. Innovative medicines not only increase survival, but they also provide people with higher-quality, more independent lives.

Congress and the White House have an unparalleled opportunity to work with private sector leaders to embrace these clear-cut opportunities to preserve America's biomedical enterprise and improve our health care system. By doing so, the economic and quality-of-life benefits provided will be immediate and far reaching.