It is disappointing that several important and honorable institutions in our region do not support the Jackson County sales tax initiative for medical research. What I believe has been inadequately considered is the value to our community from this investment.
By JOHN SPERTUS
Special to The Star
The goal of this initiative is to study how we can improve health care in our community. Who can say that U.S. health care is perfect, or even good? Who has not been frustrated at a doctors office, or at the hospital bed of a loved one?
We who study health care know there is poor translation of existing knowledge to benefit patients. We know there are terrible disparities in care and outcomes associated with gender, race and socioeconomic status. We know we need to improve for the economic sustainability of our country and out of a moral obligation to our patients. And most importantly, we know that we can do better.
We in Jackson County have the opportunity to provide sustainable support to study and improve our health care, to translate knowledge into routine clinical practice and to serve as a national model. This initiative will not only improve our health care, but also support numerous jobs and businesses in Jackson County.
The dissent centers on the belief that the tax is regressive, other funding sources are available and the community has other needs. To address those concerns:
• I agree the tax creates an economic burden to Jackson County families, estimated to be from $35 to $60 per household per year. While I would note that half of those paying sales tax in Jackson County live outside the county, I wonder which families would not invest this amount to improve the health care of their parents, themselves and their children? While poorer families would feel the pain of these taxes the most, they also have the greatest opportunity to benefit, as they receive the worst care and experience the worst outcomes.
• While other funding sources are available, including the National Institutes of Health and other government agencies, their investment in the research to be supported by this initiative improving health care delivery is less than 1.7 percent of all research investments and less than 0.1 percent of health care expenditures.
• Finally, while I agree there are other investments, including public safety and transportation, everyone needs health care. The benefits of improving the quality of care, outcomes and quality of life of our citizens rival those of other potential investments.
As a cardiologist and researcher who has devoted his life to trying to improve the experience and outcomes of patients, I have been privileged to work with extraordinary colleagues at Saint Lukes and the University of Missouri-Kansas City.
We have been very successful in obtaining extramural funding $30 million in the past decade to support our research. However, I believe that the incremental nature of grant funding, restricted to heart disease and stroke, has markedly limited our potential impact. This initiative would enable us to leverage what we have learned in heart disease to help people with diabetes, obesity, cancer, back pain, asthma and other diseases.
Supporting Question 1 would transform the life sciences infrastructure of our region and spur extraordinary economic opportunity. It is a bold vision to provide substantial, sustained funding to improve the delivery of health care. Supporting this vision would make our county the envy of the country and serve as a model of innovation, leadership and community engagement in improving health.
John Spertus is the clinical director of outcomes research at St. Lukes Mid America Heart Institute. He lives in Kansas City.