Jan. 13, 2016 -- In his last State of the Union speech, President Barack Obama announced a national initiative to find a cure for cancer, an ambitious "moon shot" that Vice President Joe Biden will direct in the remaining months of the administration.
Biden has called for such a scientific blitz after the death of his son Beau from brain cancer last May.
The moon shot has already materialized in the private sector. On Nov. 11, leaders from the pharmaceutical, biotech, and academic medicine communities announced the formation of the National Immunotherapy Coalition. This group aims to develop a vaccine-based immunotherapy to combat cancer by 2020 through what it calls the Cancer MoonShot 2020 program.
Obama didn't offer details on what the government's role would be in speeding up the pace of cancer research, but he said that the giant spending and tax deal passed by Congress in December boosts spending at the National Institutes of Health.
The president also gave a shout-out to the Precision Medicine Initiative he announced in his 2015 State of the Union speech. That research effort seeks to develop targeted treatments for cancer and other diseases based on a person's genetic and molecular profile.
President's Greatest Hits Included the Affordable Care Act
Striking an optimistic tone about the country's direction, Obama also touted the health care reform law.
"Nearly 18 million have gained coverage so far," he said. "Health care inflation has slowed. And our businesses have created jobs every single month since it became law."
The president acknowledged deep-seated opposition to health care reform, a fact that has haunted his signature legislation since it was passed in 2010. Just last week, he vetoed a bill crafted by a Republican-controlled Congress that would have gutted the Affordable Care Act by removing key provisions such as the individual mandate to obtain insurance coverage and Medicaid expansion, undertaken by 30 states and the District of Columbia.
The negativity extends beyond Congress. In December, 46% of Americans had a somewhat or very unfavorable view of the law compared with 40% who view it favorably, according to a monthly Kaiser Family Foundation tracking poll. The poll, dating back to April 2010, has generally reflected this split, although there have been some months when support narrowly outweighed opposition. At the same time, the Kaiser Family Foundation found in December that most Americans do not want to repeal the law, despite its perceived flaws.
Obama’s speech made passing reference to other health care issues. The president said he would continue to push to protect children from gun violence. He called on Congress to strengthen Medicare, not weaken it. And in a line that drew bipartisan applause, he expressed hope that lawmakers would come together on issues such as "battling prescription drug abuse."
"We just might surprise the cynics again," Obama said.
In the official Republican response to Obama's speech, South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley said the president's record "has often fallen short of his soaring words."
One example, she said, was health care reform, which "has made insurance less affordable and doctors less available." Haley said her party would replace the Affordable Care Act "with reforms that lowered costs and actually let you keep your doctor."