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Last updated: February 13. 2014 9:41AM - 836 Views

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Researchers at Penn State University recently made history when they unveiled a new technology for regenerating damaged brain cells. The breakthrough could lead to remarkable new treatments for Alzheimer’s disease.


That’s good news for the more than 280,000 Pennsylvania seniors who suffer from the illness.


More encouraging still, new treatments for many more of the nation’s most debilitating chronic conditions could soon become commonplace.


Over the last decade, the Medicare Part D prescription drug benefit has kick-started an unprecedented surge in medical innovation. Protecting this successful program will advance the cutting-edge work of American researchers and ensure medical progress continues apace.


Congress created Part D about 10 years ago to guarantee, for the first time, that seniors would be able to afford the prescription medications they need. The program has made good on that promise.


In Pennsylvania, more than 750,000 seniors have access to 38 different drug plans through Part D. The competition keeps the quality of coverage high and prices low. Since the program’s implementation, the proportion of low-income seniors reporting they had trouble affording their prescriptions has fallen from 30 percent to 10 percent.


But there has been a huge additional benefit from Part D as well: As sales of medications to seniors have increased, so has the ability to invest in medical research. In 2012, the life sciences industry spent nearly $50 billion on drug discovery. That’s 50 percent more than the entire budget of the National Institutes of Health.


Thanks in large part to Part D, researchers in Pennsylvania and across the country are hard at work creating tomorrow’s medical miracles.


And thankfully so. The future of American health depends on this pharmaceutical pipeline. New drugs will cure and combat costly conditions, driving down overall health care spending and dramatically improving the lives of countless patients.


Today, more than 5,000 new medications in the research pipeline are specifically aimed at major chronic diseases, including 100 drugs for Alzheimer’s alone. More than 3,000 therapies are being developed to treat various kinds of cancer. Seniors can also expect new breakthrough medications for diabetes, osteoporosis, arthritis and heart disease.


Perhaps most exciting, an astonishing 70 percent of the medicines in today’s biopharmaceutical pipeline are “first-in-class” drugs, which means they are entirely unlike any other treatment currently available.


What’s more, when seniors can actually afford their medications, they’re much more likely to take them as prescribed. These patients keep their maladies in check and, as one recent study demonstrates, their health bills down as well. For a number of serious conditions, Part D significantly reduced the risk of hospitalization. And the Congressional Budget Office has found that spending on prescription drugs saves treatment costs elsewhere in the Medicare program.


In short, Part D has created a sort of virtuous circle: The money spent keeping today’s seniors healthy ultimately funds medical research that will benefit future generations.


But with the population getting older, medical costs will rapidly soar unless new breakthrough treatments emerge to control chronic conditions. Over the last decade, Medicare Part D has proven a critical source of funding for life-sustaining medical research and drug development.


We must protect this vital program from needless reforms that threaten to thwart future breakthroughs. Supporting Medicare Part D will maintain high-quality care for today’s seniors and safeguard the future of medical innovation.


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