Make Better Health Care Non-partisan

In this March 4, 2015 photo, research scientist Tony Huang works in a laboratory at Vertex Pharmaceuticals Inc. in San Diego.
In this March 4, 2015 photo, research scientist Tony Huang works in a laboratory at Vertex Pharmaceuticals Inc. in San Diego. The global pharmaceutical industry is pouring billions of dollars into developing treatments for rare diseases, which once drew little interest from major drugmakers but now point the way toward a new era of innovative therapies and big profits. Vertex hopes to have treatments for roughly 90 percent of cystic fibrosis patients by around 2020. (AP Photo/Gregory Bull)

The late author and poet Maya Angelou once said, "If you don't like something, change it. If you can't change it, change your attitude."

When President Obama delivers his final State of the Union address tonight, he will do so against the backdrop of two realities in health care. The first is that more Americans have health insurance coverage under the Affordable Care Act. While much has succeeded in this regard, our work in ensuring access to high-quality services is far from over.

The second reality is that we're living in a society of rising disease prevalence, unsustainable health care costs and the near-certainty that health care, as a public policy issue, will continue to be contentious in Washington and on the campaign trail.

In 2016, it's time to change our collective attitude.

Every day, 10,000 Americans turn 65. While many of us older types are staying active longer, the reality is that chronic disease will bring about systematic cost pressures unlike anything we've seen. Today, we're spending $3.1 trillion on health care, up more than five percent since 2013. The amount we spend will only increase as more Americans require more hospitalizations and in-depth care for longer periods of time.

Unfortunately, we've come to accept disease as an unavoidable part of life. An estimated 5.3 million Americans have Alzheimer's disease. In 2015, more than 1.6 million people were diagnosed with cancer. An overwhelming 29 million people in the U.S. live with diabetes, 9.3 percent of our population.

We are making progress in key areas. In 2015 alone, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approved 45 new therapeutic products. The public and private sectors have significantly pursued new research initiatives, with the NIH investing more than $30 billion and the biopharmaceutical industry investing more than $51 billion in 2014.

For much of the pain and suffering, the success stories exist. President Carter recently showed us the human potential of immunotherapy treatment in cancer care, which could fundamentally change how we treat various forms of cancer. In fact, at the beginning of 2014, there were nearly 15 million cancer survivors from over 14 forms of the disease. According to the American Cancer Society, the number of cancer survivors will increase to 19 million by 2024. Without medical discovery and advancements in cancer research, this number would be significantly lower. But even with billions of dollars invested in innovative research, we're leaving many patients behind.

Consider the example of cystic fibrosis. While we've seen significant progress in recent years, the 30,000 patients who have CF are counting on new discoveries to help extend and improve their lives.

Alzheimer's disease warrants equal attention. A report by the Alzheimer's Association found that costs are projected to increase to more than $1.1 trillion by 2050 without a breakthrough.

We need unprecedented collaboration among industry, government, patient advocacy and academic research communities to focus on moving the needle. This means recognizing that the public and private sectors have complementary roles to play and our end goals should be addressing prevention and disease prevalence first.

We are developing many of the tools we need to prevent and to fight disease, but must constantly discover new ones. As in so many other areas in addition to health care, we have work to do to shift our collective attitude from one that's partisan in nature to one that keeps the focus on the individual patient.

If we make this the focus of the health care debate in the next few years, everybody wins.

Howard Dean is the former governor of Vermont and a former Democratic candidate for President of the United States. Dean currently serves as a senior advisor at Dentons, however the views here do not represent the firm or its clients.