The Breakdown

Explaining Southern California's economy

The stakes are very high for future U.S. medical research

Associate research specialist at the Wisconsin National Primate Research Center at University Wisconsin-Madison removes a new batch of Embryonic Stem Cells from deep freeze to be thawed before being worked on.
Associate research specialist at the Wisconsin National Primate Research Center at University Wisconsin-Madison removes a new batch of Embryonic Stem Cells from deep freeze to be thawed before being worked on. Darren Hauck/Getty Images

My KPCC colleague Stephanie O'Neill contributed a must-listen report to a recent broadcast of "The Madeleine Brand Show." It was all about the economics of stem-cell research and how this kind of very high-tech, advanced medical therapy is imperative for the future of the country's population. Here's a sample:

Right now the US spends about $2.7 trillion health care annually, a figure that's expected to soar with an aging and increasingly obese population.

"Traditional approaches, whether it's through the use of pharmaceuticals or traditional types of biologics or devices or surgical intervention, really are not going to be able to effectively deal with the challenges we face," said Gil Van Bokkelen, chairman of the non-profit Alliance for Regenerative Medicine in Washington DC and CEO of the Ohio-based biotech firm, Athersys.

"What I think is going to happen over the course of the next several years is we're going to see the first clinical evidence that shows how big of an impact these types of therapies can really have. Which means we can overcome some of the rising tide of pressure that we're trying to fight against with an aging population that's more susceptible to a lot of different, very expensive disease conditions."

Consider that figure from the first paragraph: $2.7 trillion.

Annually!

And that's in an economy with a yearly GDP of $14.5 trillion. So what does the U.S. spend every year on health care? About a fifth of total GDP — 19 percent, actually. 

Staggering. 

But it's expected to rise to 25 percent of GDP by 2025 and fully half of GDP by 2082, according to the Congressional Budget Office. 

Think about it. Fifty cents of every dollar of GDP will be spoken for by 2082. It will be expended to keep people healthy, to treat disease, and to sustain the elderly, who will be living longer than ever.

Against these projections, increased investment in health-care research sounds like it may be the only way now to deal with a major economic crisis before the century is finished. What's certain is that health-care costs will over time basically consume most of the U.S. economy.

Follow Matthew DeBord and the DeBord Report on Twitter.

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