President Obama has found one health care initiative, at least, that has bipartisan support: increased funding for so-called precision medicine. In the budget President Obama released Monday, $215 million dollars is set aside to fund the collection of genetic data for one million Americans. The goal is develop better, and more personalized, treatments for various diseases. Politico reports on the prospects for the budget item:
Sen. Lamar Alexander, who chairs the Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor and Pensions, attended the White House announcement of the initiative. Rep. Fred Upton, chairman of the House Energy and Commerce Committee, has also signaled his support […]The initiative doesn’t cost a lot — not in the context of a $4 trillion budget — and advocates say the payoffs could be big, both for improving basic scientific knowledge and finding ways to personalize medical treatments for diseases such as cancer.
We will have to see how this funding is used, exactly, before we can assess it completely, but in general more support for medical research is an excellent thing, one of the reasons that one generation can legitimately incur debt on behalf of its successors. It will be the young and those not yet born who benefit the most from improvements in health care. In fact, the U.S.—with its wealth and scientific situation—may even have a positive obligation to promote this kind of research that will also benefit people in poorer countries.
But while all research is, for the most part, good, and to be supported, the U.S. has a tendency these days to over-invest (relatively) in the pharmaceutical aspect of health care while under-investing in research into how to deliver health care more efficiently and cheaply. We are focused on coming up with new drugs and new treatments, but less focused on how to get treatments to patients in ways that don’t break the bank. The result is a relatively uncontrolled rise in health care spending: skyrocketing health care costs are the main reason that Obama’s budgets show the deficit rising strongly through the next decade.
It is good that we are investing in precision medicine, but research into health care delivery systems could be of as great or greater use—including to people in poor countries.