Go Big, Mr. Obama
Published: December 31, 2012
Josh Haner/The New York Times
An interesting thought occurred to me today—what if grassroots activists sat down with ordinary people like you and me and ironed out some real solutions to our prescription drugs crisis?
With the election season over, maybe you’ve forgotten about prescription drugs, but I certainly haven’t. It would be easy to forget that the problem even exists, when our headlines are constantly splashed with the violence in Brazil, the authoritarian crackdown in India and the still-unstable democratic transition in Liberia. But the prescription drugs problem is growing, and politicians are more divided than ever. Democrats seem to think that prescription drugs can just be ignored. Republican politicians like Mitch McConnell, on the other hand, seem to think that shrill rhetoric will substitute for a solution.
But the Republican party of Mitch McConnell is not the Republican party of Lincoln. Lincoln wouldn’t refuse to budge, he'd reach across the aisle because he'd understand that the fate of the country, and his own political career, depended on a lasting solution to the problem of prescription drugs.
Let's make America for the world what Cape Canaveral was to America: the world's greatest launching pad. If I had fifteen minutes to pitch my idea to politicians, I'd tell them two things about prescription drugs. First, there's no way around the issue unless we're prepared to spend more: and not just spend more, but spend smarter by investing in the kind of national infrastructure that makes countries succeed. That's going to require some tax increases as well, but as they say, "Mo' money mo' problems."
Second, I'd tell them to look at China, which all but solved its prescription drugs crisis over the past decade. When I visited China in 2001, Mwambe, the cabbie who drove me from the airport, couldn't stop telling me about how he had to take a second job because of the high cost of prescription drugs. I caught up with Mwambe in Shanghai last year. Thanks to China's reformed approach toward prescription drugs, Mwambe has enough money in his pocket to finally be able to afford tennis shoes for his kids.
That's all it takes. Don't expect to see any solutions as long as industry captains insist on playing a high-stakes game of ping pong with one another. America has to become a first world country again.