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Health Care on the Horizon

02/12/02 12:00AM

A friend of mine is suffering from an aggressive form of cancer. A father of young children, he has struggled mightily along with his doctors to prolong his life.

On the day he was scheduled to give that up and begin hospice care, a telephone call came inviting him to try one more experimental medical therapy.

It's given him another hope for more time. It seems to be working, and right now my friend Warren is the human image in my mind of the great hope medical research can offer.

We're on the verge of breakthroughs in a long list of medical technologies that promise a golden age of health care. Even now, the battle is on against some of our most painful and disabling diseases.

On the horizon are new gene therapies to treat diseases such as cystic fibrosis and cancer. New vaccines are underway to prevent HIV, Alzheimer's, and certain cancers.

Organ transplant research could lead to life-saving solutions for people now on organ donor waiting lists. And new ways of designing drugs are leading to medications that can help millions of people live longer and more comfortably.

On the horizon are new medical wonders.

All of this progress will have heavy price tags. Much of the research is being done by private companies planning to cash in handsomely on their work.

On the horizon, investors see rich returns.

Another kind of research - public opinion research - tells us that Americans expect the latest and best health care to be available to every one of us, whether or not we individually can pay for it.

On the horizon, the public sees top quality health care for everyone who needs it.

And, on the horizon, government leaders know that they're looking at their biggest public policy problem. Already we're seeing a growing gap between health care "haves" and "have-nots."

In this election year, we need to call on candidates to tell us how they will approach the health care crisis. I hope they'll address the hard questions of cost, benefits, access and pricing.

Because right now, right next to all those medical wonders and all those growing costs, we need to see some solutions on that horizon.

--Peg Devlyn is co-owner of Marketing Partners, Inc. in Burlington, Vermont.
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