(Bloomberg View) — Did you catch that line from Mike Huckabee during the last Republican presidential debate in which he calls for a declaration of war on four major diseases?
“I really believe that the next president ought to declare a war on cancer, heart disease, diabetes and Alzheimer’s,” he said, “because those are the four things that are causing the greatest level of cost.”
Until he repeated it a few minutes later, I didn’t take much notice. But it turns out he’s not alone. A “cures caucus” is building within Republican ranks.
Ted Cruz, for example, is urging the U.S. to intensify its focus on deadly diseases. He was chairman of a July hearing on the subject and wrote a recent op-ed about it.
Michigan Rep. Fred Upton, who heads the House committee that oversees biomedical research, sponsored the 21st Century Cures Act, which overwhelmingly passed the House in July. It authorizes $9.3 billion over five years to establish a Cures Innovation Fund at the National Institutes of Health. That’s in addition to the $30 billion-plus the NIH already receives annually.
On the Senate side, Mississippi Republican Roger Wicker recently offered a measure to let the NIH award prize money for research breakthroughs and public-private collaboration on potential cures for Alzheimer’s.
Billions more federal spending on biomedical research? More U.S. coordination with private-sector efforts? A government-wide challenge to help sick people, a la JFK’s man-to-the-moon challenge?
It seems some Republicans are betraying conservative dogma — perhaps most emphatically pushed by Cruz — that says government agencies are inept and federal spending inane.
But the cures caucus makes eminent sense. The goal is an eventual reduction in federal spending on expensive health care programs by reducing the incidence of killer diseases. The bulk of Medicare and Medicaid expenditures go toward treating chronic diseases like cancer, heart disease, Alzheimer’s and diabetes. Alzheimer’s and other forms of dementia alone eat up 68 percent.