Actually, Curing Disease Is A Pretty Good Way To Save Uncle Sam Money

James P. Pinkerton Fox News Contributor
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On Friday here at The Daily Caller, Christopher Bedford critiqued — “ripped,” even “mocked” might be better words — presidential hopeful Mike Huckabee. Please allow me respectfully to dissent.

In his piece, entitled “Now That The Debate Is Over, Can We Talk About How Awful Mike Huckabee Is?” Mr. Bedford attacked Huckabee’s focus on medical cures. During the now-notorious CNBC presidential debate, Huckabee had said,

“You want to fix Medicare? Do what we did on polio. Focus on the diseases that are costing us trillions of dollars: Alzheimer’s, diabetes, heart disease and cancer. Eradicate these and you’ve fixed Medicare.”

To which Mr. Bedford responded,

“Now pause, and take in what was just said: The way to stop government spending on ailments, diseases and disorders is for government to cure all ailments, diseases and disorders.”

Actually, there’s pretty good evidence of just that: Philanthropist and medical visionary Michael Milken has made exactly the same point as Huckabee; the polio vaccine saved the feds a lot of money, in addition, of course, to saving a lot of heartache:

“When I was a child in the early 1950s, economists estimated that by the year 2000, treating polio would cost the United States $100 billion annually. Today’s polio immunization programs cost one thousand times less than that and have virtually eliminated the disease.”

And Mr. Milken continued, in that same vein:

“Thanks to medical research on all diseases and growing awareness of prevention, especially nutrition, we live longer, more active lives with fewer years of disability. In economic terms, improvements in life expectancy added approximately $3.2 trillion per year to America’s wealth over the three decades beginning in 1970, according to University of Chicago economists Kevin Murphy and Robert Topel.”

Moreover, common sense tells us that not being sick costs less than being sick. That’s been the story of public-health efforts that have turned such onetime scourges as the plague, cholera, and typhoid into distant memories.

And smallpox, which was killing hundreds of thousands of people a year, worldwide, as recently as the Sixties, was declared planetarily eradicated in 1980. Yes, the effort, spearheaded by Uncle Sam, was a resounding 100 percent success. So smallpox is not only one less disease to worry about, it’s also one less disease to spend money on.

Just last year, when the Ebola virus threatened America, as well as Africa, it was cheaper to prevent Ebola from coming here than to treat people after they were infected. And now, there’s reason to believe that a vaccine is coming soon. To which Mr. Huckabee might say, If it’s a good idea to get rid of Ebola, it’s also a good idea to get rid of Alzheimer’s.

It would appear, however, that Bedford is approaching these issues from a different place, ideologically. While cautiously praising Mr. Huckabee for making “some serious points on American culture and morality,” Mr. Bedford nevertheless tore into the Arkansan for his ambitions on behalf of cures:

“Mr. Huckabee suggested that the solution to Medicare’s ills is Uncle Sam curing the world’s diseases, like some kind of medical neocon on steroids. … Wednesday evening marked a departure from reality, and an entrance into some progressive fantasy world.”

It’s possible not to be a fan of the neocons — and to see, as Mr. Bedford does, that many neoconservatives have had a curiously left-wing tradition — and yet still see the value of concerted action to solve problems.

Huckabee, busy running for president, has not been overly specific about how he would implement his vision. (Having worked in five presidential campaigns, including Mr. Huckabee’s 2008 effort, I can attest that the hurly-burly of politicking cuts against the time needed for tome-writing.)

But of course, John F. Kennedy wasn’t too terribly specific when he said that we should go to the moon. And neither was Abraham Lincoln in 1860 when he said we must preserve the Union; the hard work was done after Lincoln’s inauguration.

Of course, not everyone agrees on the wisdom of the Apollo program, nor of the North winning the Civil War and thereby freeing the slaves. But most Americans do. And the same with medical cures, people these days might be cynical about the government’s ability to do things, but they are plenty happy when it succeeds, as, again, seems to be happening with Ebola.

So with all due respect to Mr. Bedford, yes, we should seek to cure disease. There’s nothing awful about that idea. As Newt Gingrich wrote in a 2003 book, it is, indeed, possible to save money by saving lives.

James P. Pinkerton, a former White House domestic policy aide to Presidents Ronald Reagan and George H.W. Bush, has been a Fox News Contributor since 1996.   He is also the editor of CureStrategy.org.