This was originally published in Morning Consult on January 12, 2017.
The Alzheimer’s Association congratulates you on your nomination to be secretary of Health and Human Services and we look forward to working with you. There is already an intense focus on many hot-button health care issues, and as the next secretary, you will face a full plate of partisan issues in the upcoming year. However, there is one health issue that as a physician and member of the Alzheimer’s Bipartisan Task Force you have seen first-hand has been a point of bipartisan agreement over the past several years — the need for public policy to address the growing public health crisis of Alzheimer’s disease.
Alzheimer’s disease must remain an important health care priority. Alzheimer’s is the most expensive disease in America, costing an estimated $236 billion in 2016 — with more than half of that $160 billion coming from Medicare and Medicaid. By mid-century, the number of people with the disease is set to nearly triple, and the costs of Alzheimer’s disease are projected to more than quadruple to $1.1 trillion. What’s more, Alzheimer’s is the only leading cause of death in the U.S. that cannot be prevented, cured, or even slowed.
Fortunately, the Trump administration will find a strong, bipartisan consensus on Capitol Hill for facing the challenge of Alzheimer’s disease forthrightly. Over the past several years, Republicans and Democrats in Congress have worked together to craft real legislative solutions for the Alzheimer’s community. In 2010, Congress unanimously passed the National Alzheimer’s Project Act, which mandated the creation of a national strategic plan to address the rapidly escalating Alzheimer’s disease crisis. The National Plan to Address Alzheimer’s Disease was first released in 2012, and it set a clear goal: prevent and effectively treat Alzheimer’s disease by 2025.
Congress also came together on a bipartisan basis to pass the Alzheimer’s Accountability Act of 2014, mandating the National Institutes of Health to submit a Professional Judgment Budget directly to Congress for critical Alzheimer’s research. Only cancer and HIV/AIDS have been previously designated for this special budget treatment. In 2015, Congress passed an omnibus spending bill that included a $350 million increase for Alzheimer’s disease research at NIH. Importantly, $400 million was pending before the 114th Congress for FY17, and will now need action by the 115th Congress.
The Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services announced in early November that it would begin paying for cognitive functional assessment and care planning sessions for those living with Alzheimer’s disease and their caregivers. This decision came after growing bipartisan support for the Alzheimer’s Association endorsed Health Outcomes, Planning, and Education for Alzheimer’s Act (S. 857, H.R. 1559). CMS has now made it easier for physicians to provide critical care and support services for persons living with Alzheimer’s disease.
These have been critically important advancements for the more than 5 million Americans living with the disease and their 15 million caregivers.
Yet much more remains to be done. Demonstrating the urgency of this crisis, the Professional Judgment Budget commissioned by Congress recommended a $414 million increase in spending on Alzheimer’s disease research for fiscal year 2018. Were this provided next year on top of what Congress is on track to provide for FY2016, that increase would bring overall Alzheimer’s research at NIH to $1.8 billion per year still lagging behind the medical experts, who estimate that at least $2 billion per year needs to be spent on Alzheimer’s research. Congress already knows how much is needed to fight Alzheimer’s. Now they must act.
This need to do more is why Alzheimer’s advocacy has expanded beyond Capitol Hill and emerged as an issue in elections all across America. The Alzheimer’s Impact Movement, the sister organization of the Alzheimer’s Association, dedicated to bipartisan political advocacy, was determined to make Alzheimer’s disease an issue in the 2016 election. And these advocates succeeded.
Advocates were on the ground in early primary states such as Iowa and New Hampshire, and asked each Republican and Democrat running for their party’s nomination about their plan to combat Alzheimer’s disease. At the time, President-elect Donald Trump said Alzheimer’s would be, “a top priority,” of his administration. And we look forward to working with the Administration to deliver on that promise to the American people.
But the president-elect and the HHS secretary-designate will not face these challenges alone. The Alzheimer’s Association and our dedicated advocates who have been working tirelessly to improve the lives of those living with Alzheimer’s disease and their caregivers are ready to work alongside the Trump Administration and the 115th Congress.
It is our hope that the president-elect and you will recognize the urgency surrounding Alzheimer’s disease and recognize the progress we have made in addressing the disease in a bipartisan fashion. Only then can we build on our progress and achieve a world without Alzheimer’s.
Robert Egge is the Chief Public Policy Officer of the Alzheimer’s Association and the Executive Director of the Alzheimer's Impact Movement.