Our 'New Normal' Wounded Healthcare System

Dr. Tim Johnson
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When wounded warriors are now sent to the Bethesda Naval Medical Center for treatment, whether missing a leg, an arm or having sustained a traumatic brain injury, they are introduced to a novel expression: "This is your new normal." It is explained to them that from now on they will have to accept a new way of life and their expectations must be changed to meet their new realities. These realities mean new sacrifices for them into their futures, with an even longer duration than the unparalleled conflict we are engaged in.

There is only one exception that can be labeled a comparator in our nation's history. That exception is the wounded U.S. healthcare system, which is suffering from inherent disabilities that are beginning to preclude effective functioning and will only become worse in the future.

Without significant investment in new medical technology, our wounded healthcare system will become our "new normal" of diminished quality-of-life, shorter life expectancy, and diminished access to healthcare.

The way to restore both the wounded warrior and the healthcare system is through federally funded research and development of new technology. Given the rough patch the U.S. economy is facing -- something not seen since the Great Depression -- experts both conservative and progressive will ask: "What will be the payback on this investment be?" The answer has a proven track record of creating new high-paying jobs, new business opportunities for biotechnology, medical device, and pharmaceutical companies -- this while adding a much needed positive contribution to our GDP and continued U.S. leadership in medical science and technology. So what is the problem?

Even the currently modest funding for healthcare research is now being threatened. To meet the current fiscal challenge, the director of the Office of Management and Budget sent a memorandum on Wednesday, Aug. 17, to all agency and department heads, asking them to submit two budgets for President Obama's consideration. One proposal would reflect a 5 percent budget reduction and the other would include a 10 percent reduction for the 2013 fiscal year. The memorandum also says that submissions "should identify programs to 'double down' on because they provide the best opportunity to enhance economic growth." This last sentence we believe carries the only credible opportunity for many Americans to receive the quality of medical care that they are hopeful of receiving. We believe healthcare research is one of those areas that has repeatedly proven its ability to enhance economic growth and its budget must actually be increased.

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