By Philip Elliott
Republican presidential contender Newt Gingrich on Monday said Alzheimer's disease is on pace to cost the government some $20 trillion over the next four decades and said boosting federal research money would be a wise investment.
Gingrich, the top Republican in the House during the 1990s, is mounting a presidential campaign on the premise he is a policy heavyweight who can lead a fractured GOP field. His speech to Alzheimer's advocates meeting in the capital largely eschewed politics but made clear his hopes to run as an idea man.
"I want to know, not what we can afford in the federal budget. I what to know what (researchers) can do if they have the resources they need to accelerate the breakthroughs to save lives and to save money," Gingrich said.
"We are grotesquely underfunded," the former House speaker said flatly of health research dollars.
Gingrich, a former Georgia lawmaker, proposed selling U.S. bonds to raise money for Alzheimer's research, which would take federal research dollars out of the political competition for a share of the federal budget.
Gingrich cited figures from an Alzheimer's Association study -- conducted by a subsidiary of insurer United HealthCare -- which projected the total cost to the U.S. economy of the disease at $20 trillion through 2050.
Another study projected that Medicare and Medicaid spending to care for those with Alzheimer's would reach $800 billion annually, adjusted for inflation, by mid-century. Current spending is $130 billion annually. In terms of costs, the study suggests actual spending of $1.1 trillion through 2050 with the balance of the $20 trillion cost involving lost wages and worker productivity.
The industry-funded study also suggested that a drug that could delay the onset of Alzheimer's by five years could cut government spending by half in 2050.
Gingrich pitched the spending -- with a bottom line undefined -- as a way to shave the budget. He said that scientific research should be above politics.
"Alzheimer's should be a totally nonpartisan issues because Alzheimer's doesn't' respect Republican or Democrat, it doesn't respect liberal or conservative," Gingrich said. "Alzheimer's affects everybody at every part of American life. Therefore, we should be able to come together as Americans to have a health conversation with no partisanship."