Can the Obama Administration Spare Some Real Change?

The Obama administration is ushering in a new era of big government, higher taxes and more spending, to an extent that even supporters are worried. The tech-savvy president should consider recent suggestions from the technology and science sector, such as the idea that not all problems can be solved by simply throwing money at them.

The National Cancer Institute (NCI) is poised to receive a windfall of cash from the US$10 billion being directed to the National Institutes of Health. Most people don’t mind such spending priorities since health, and in particular cancer, is a serious problem in need of better solutions. But spending money does not automatically create solutions and, in fact, can exacerbate problems already in place.

One of the biggest problems in the area of cancer research, according to Mark Thornton, president of the Sarcoma Foundation of America, is the “inability to quickly perform the clinical trials necessary to determine whether cures that work in test tubes will also work in humans.” The reason is that current trials wait to see whether someone’s life is saved verses whether or not a drug is helping to change key indicators of whether someone is getting better or worse. The first way involves waiting years to see if someone improved and the second method involves using other “surrogate indicators” to measure progress more quickly.

This problem is holding back quality care for millions, but to fix it does not take mountains of money. What it requires instead is an innovative change in thinking — something everyone had expected from the Obama administration but are still waiting patiently to see in action. Looking at the problem in terms of how government can help improve the way the system works, rather than drowning a failing system in more money, can help bring about the positive change the entire country wants.

A second suggestion from the worried science and tech sector came from Reid Hoffman, founder and chief executive of business social networking site LinkedIn.

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