Will Newt’s Hopeful Message on Alzheimer’s Get Overshadowed?

by James P. Pinkerton

Here’s an idea for saving money on Alzheimer’s Disease (AD): Cure it. That might seem rather obvious, but in fact, we have made little or no progress on AD treatment, even as the disease escalates toward epidemic proportions in our aging society. Newt Gingrich, in a speech to the Alzheimer’s Association today, will advocate changing that costly status quo, proposing regulatory and legal reform; he will likely even float an idea of “Alzheimer’s Bonds” as a private-sector finance mechanism. If that hopeful message — a polio-vaccine-like revolution in public health — gets out there, it could be a game-changer for 2012 politics, but for Gingrich, there’s always that “if.” His appearance on Meet the Press, to take one example, raised new issues that could cloud out his anti-AD message.

Gingrich’s basic idea can be stated in five words: Cure is cheaper than care. In a speech to the Brookings Institution last month, Gingrich noted that that AD costs the U.S. $183 billion a year, and that the cost is rapidly mounting as our population is aging — to a total of some $20 trillion by 2050. Yet if we could slow down the onset of AD by just five years, on average, we could cut those future expenses in half.

So what’s not to like? Nothing, in the view of this author, but Gingrich has more than one message on health care. An NRO headline written in the wake of his MTP appearance reads: “Newt Tacks Left, Slams Ryan’s Medicare Plan.” That would be Paul Ryan’s budget plan, of course, beloved by libertarians and not so loved by most Americans. Gingrich had been warning all along that the Ryan plan’s deep cuts were a non-starter with the public; indeed, if Ryan had led instead with a Gingrichian “cure” message, he’d be a hero to most Americans right now.

In addition, on the same MTP program, Gingrich endorsed the idea of personal responsibility in health care, which brought him perilously close to seeming to be nice to Mitt Romney’s Romneycare. Blared the Newsmax.com headline, “Gingrich Backs Obamacare’s Individual Mandate Requiring Health Insurance” Yet it’s a simple reality that even if the Obamacare mandate is repealed, we will still end up paying, one way or another, for the uninsured. Yet in the heat of this anti-Obama moment, few Republican primary voters want to think about replacing Obamacare with anything other than nothing.

So those two issues — Ryan and Romney — threaten to overshadow Gingrich’s Alzheimer’s speech. If so, that will be a shame, because health itself is more important than health-care finance.

— James P. Pinkerton served as a domestic-policy aide in the Reagan and Bush 41 White Houses. He is the editor of SeriousMedicineStrategy.org and a contributor to the Fox News Channel.