At least Alzheimer’s research is bringing Washington together

At least Alzheimer’s research is bringing Washington together
© Getty

In an era of extreme partisanship, there is one issue that continues to inspire collaboration and even comradery among members of both parties: the fight to stop Alzheimer’s.

Last month, 15 senators spanning the political spectrum issued a letter urging President TrumpDonald John TrumpSenate GOP budget ignores Trump, cuts defense Trump says he'll nominate Stephen Moore to Fed White House: ISIS territory in Syria has been 100 percent eliminated MORE to boost Alzheimer’s research funding in the fiscal year 2019 budget. And just last week, a group of diverse leaders in the House and Senate from both parties introduced the Concentrating on High-Value Alzheimer’s Needs to Get to an End (CHANGE) Act (S. 2387/ H.R. 4957), a bill that takes a targeted approach to addressing our nation’s Alzheimer’s crisis. CHANGE is exactly what we need in the fight against Alzheimer’s.

ADVERTISEMENT
The CHANGE Act focuses on eliminating critical barriers to faster Alzheimer’s cures: It encourages timely and accurate assessment, detection and diagnosis; supports innovative approaches to supporting families seeking Alzheimer’s care; and accelerates research by removing regulatory barriers reducing the speed and efficiency of clinical trials. This type of rare bipartisan support — including Sens. Shelley Moore CapitoShelley Wellons Moore CapitoPence, GOP senators discuss offer to kill Trump emergency disapproval resolution Bipartisan think tank to honor lawmakers who offer 'a positive tenor' Trump tries to win votes in Senate fight MORE (R-W.Va.), Debbie StabenowDeborah (Debbie) Ann StabenowChris Evans talks NATO, Marvel secrets on Capitol Hill Overnight Health Care: Senators grill drug execs over high prices | Progressive Dems unveil Medicare for all bill | House Dems to subpoena Trump officials over family separations Senators grill drug execs over high prices MORE (D-Mich.), Roger WickerRoger Frederick WickerJuan Williams: Don't rule out impeaching Trump The 25 Republicans who defied Trump on emergency declaration Overnight Defense: Senate rejects border emergency in rebuke to Trump | Acting Pentagon chief grilled on wall funding | Warren confronts chief over war fund budget MORE (R-Miss.), Bob MenendezRobert (Bob) MenendezThe Hill's 12:30 Report: Manafort sentenced to total of 7.5 years in prison Acting Defense chief calls Graham an 'ally' after tense exchange William Barr is right man for the times MORE (D-N.J.) and Representatives Pete Roskam (R-Ill.) and Linda SanchezLinda Teresa SánchezDems press Mnuchin on Trump tax returns Hispanic Dems announce task forces for 116th Congress Dem added to Ways and Means Committee amid desire for more Hispanic members MORE (D-Calif.) — underscores the increased urgency that many feel, regardless of party for finding a cure.

Based on years of tireless research, we know it can be done. This nation’s history of successful strides against many of world’s most devastating diseases — from polio to HIV — gives us confidence that the same fate awaits Alzheimer’s and other dementias. But we must address roadblocks to better detection, diagnosis, and clinical trial participation if we are serious about meeting our national goal of identifying a means of preventing and effectively treating Alzheimer’s by 2025. CHANGE helps to pave the way for this reality.

Increased funding for Alzheimer’s research through federal appropriations remains crucial to the fight for a cure — in fact, Congress has more than tripled NIH funding for Alzheimer’s in the last six years. This progress is complemented by investments by industry and fellow philanthropists like Bill Gates. However, just as important, are policies like the CHANGE Act which complements the work being done in the private sector by providing diagnostic and care support to the millions touched by the disease today.

This bipartisan effort to fighting Alzheimer’s couldn’t come at a better time for our increasing fiscal deficits and the economy. The total annual payments for health care, long-term care and hospice care for people with Alzheimer's or other dementias are projected to increase to more than $1.1 trillion in 2050 — more than the Department of Defense’s annual budget. Alzheimer’s dramatic rise is contributing to the more than four-fold increase in both entitlement spending under Medicare and Medicaid and in families’ out-of-pocket spending. In fact, Alzheimer’s alone has the potential to bankrupt Medicare if steps are not taken to address it.

Current health system barriers, however, have made it harder to pursue a cure and treatment. For example, a report from the Nurse Practitioners in Women’s Health and UsAgainstAlzheimer’s found that 86 percent of nurse practitioners do not have a standard protocol or tool to assess memory problems. Do we want to detect a potential cancer at Stage 1 or Stage 4?  Today, we are diagnosing Alzheimer’s at Stage 4, at a point when academic and industry researchers are saying it is too late in the course of the disease to do anything about it. The CHANGE Act will enhance existing law that requires assessment of a Medicare beneficiary’s cognitive health as part of the Annual Wellness and Welcome to Medicare Visit. Specifically, the CHANGE Act will require that such assessments be conducted using new technologies and tools validated by the research and physician communities.

Were physicians regularly discussing cognitive health with tools for early assessment, detection and diagnosis, physicians and consumers could identify their risk of the disease early, not late. Clinical trials looking to prevent development of Alzheimer’s symptoms and which are today under-enrolled would have a robust pipeline of patients dedicated to finding a means of preventing this insidious disease.

Putting financial resources behind research, developing new tools for physicians, and breaking down regulatory barriers that currently stymie progress could ensure faster Alzheimer’s breakthroughs that so many are hoping for and need. In this time of extreme partisanship and divide, we our elected leaders from across the political spectrum continue to work together to make CHANGE a reality. The status quo is simply not acceptable in the race for an Alzheimer’s cure.

George Vradenburg is the co-founder and Chairman of UsAgainstAlzheimer’s.