Michael Bloomberg Aim To Fight Noncommunicable Diseases Complicated By President's Pitch Michael Bloomberg and Dr. Kelly Henning talk to NPR's Lulu Garcia-Navarro about how the fight against noncommunicable diseases may be complicated by the president's plan to cut global health spending.

Michael Bloomberg Aim To Fight Noncommunicable Diseases Complicated By President's Pitch

  • Download
  • <iframe src="https://www.npr.org/player/embed/531444415/531444418" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
  • Transcript


Michael Bloomberg is promising $15 million to the United Nations in the wake of President Trump's decision to withdraw from the Paris climate deal. Bloomberg is also organizing a group of mayors, governors and business leaders to meet the U.S. emissions targets outlined under the climate deal.

The environment is a signature issue for Bloomberg's charitable organization. Public health is another. And this year, Bloomberg is bringing special attention to the problem of non-communicable diseases. He joined us with Dr. Kelly Henning, who leads the public health program at Bloomberg Philanthropies. She laid out what non-communicable diseases are.

KELLY HENNING: Cancer, heart attacks, stroke, chronic lung disease - this is a group of diseases that cause more than 40 million deaths a year and are really rising in importance around the world. So we're very focused on trying to prevent and reduce non-communicable diseases.

MICHAEL BLOOMBERG: Let me butt in. The difference here is non-communicable diseases, Kelly, if I understand this, you get them without contact from somebody else.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Mr. Bloomberg, I'd like to understand. If this is such a huge problem, why do you think only 1 percent of global health funding is aimed at preventing these diseases?

BLOOMBERG: It's, I think, partially because you've got to say to people you're doing something that is destructive to your health and you should stop it, for example, smoking. And, unfortunately, some of these things require you to explain to people something that they didn't know. And that's what we try to do.

So if you take a look where the full sugar drink companies and the cigarette companies are focusing their advertising, they're trying to advertise to people who have less education and are less likely to understand that smoking or obesity is going to kill you.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: What people might say is some of the prescriptions that you have suggested to help with some of these diseases target the food industry, the tobacco industry, the car industries. Is that not putting...

BLOOMBERG: The gun industry.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: The gun - well, is that not putting jobs in peril? I mean, we've seen, for example, where you have had attacks put on some of these industries, people lose their jobs.

BLOOMBERG: Well, I'm not so sure that's true. In the gun industry, if they make fewer guns, yes, people probably will lose their jobs. But there's very few. And if you tell me saving some lives of the 30,000 people, for example, that get killed or commit suicide with illegal guns or a handful of people's jobs, I know where I come out on that.

When it comes to other industries like full sugar drinks, you can sell products that are less detrimental or not detrimental at all to your health. So that's something where the company can change what they do. But people aren't going to lose their jobs.

Same thing, for example, with coal. There's 50-odd thousand coal miners today. Some will lose their jobs as we use less and less coal. But there's 400,000 people employed in renewables of solar and wind. So there's a case where it creates an awful lot more jobs than it destroys.

Do I feel sorry for the coal miners? Yes. And, in fact, Bloomberg philanthropies supports organizations that retrains coal miners. But I find it not rational if people will say, well, let's keep people smoking because I don't want people who work in tobacco to lose their jobs. It's just nonsensical.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Do you think the role of philanthropic organizations like yours that are actually promoting advocacy, essentially, will become more important in an age where you are now seeing, for example, the president's budget cutting funding for key issues like global health spending?

BLOOMBERG: Well, I hope so. Unfortunately, private philanthropy is just not big enough to replace government funding. You can advocate. You can demonstrate. For example, I can show you how to run a better school. But then to scale it up to all schools, that requires federal monies and federal changes and laws and taking on some special interests and fighting them.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: So what is your reaction to the president's budget, which will eliminate more than $222 million that goes towards chronic disease prevention and health promotion?


HENNING: We really believe in prevention. We don't think it's possible to treat our way out of non-communicable disease problem that we're facing in the U.S. as well as around the world. So things like educating the public about the dangers of tobacco, the dangers of sugary beverages and empty calories associated with those, and other things that we do in the area of injury prevention like road safety and drowning prevention. They're very commonsense things that can be done. They're not enormously expensive. But they're certainly needed in the U.S. and around the world.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Let's turn to the health care debate. What impact do you think the Republican replacement to the Affordable Care Act would have on non-communicable diseases, which could also be understood as pre-existing conditions when you think about heart ailments and cancer?

BLOOMBERG: Well, it would be devastating. But we're not going to do, I don't think, most of the things that were proposed to end a policy that if you asked the question, what do you think about Obamacare? Majority of the public hates it. If you ask what to do about Affordable Care Act, don't mess with that. That's one of the great programs. I'm a beneficiary of it. And the 80 or 90 percent of the people love it with one name and a majority hate it with the other. So I think you've got to be careful.

Congress and the president promised something new. And when they got down to the brass tacks of actually writing it they realized there's no easy solution to a world where it's going to get more and more expensive to provide people care. They're going to live longer. And somebody has got to pay for it. And the only somebody is us. And it's purely a question of how we charge for ourselves.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Where do you think we're going to end up?

BLOOMBERG: I have no idea. There's been so much invested in the Affordable Care Act. It would be very hard to make major changes overnight.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: When you look at this issue on non-communicable diseases and what you're proposing, you say that governments need to get involved. They need to legislate. Do you see that will within this Congress and this administration to legislate some of these issues?


HENNING: I mean, I think we would love to see that. We'd love to see cigarette tax increase, for example. We'd love to see some changes like that coming. I think it's a watch and wait right now.

BLOOMBERG: Yeah. I think there's also a place for government. And there's a place for private philanthropy. You know, this is - governing and improving the world's a team sport.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: OK. But you've said you need government. Do you see the will in this Republican administration to actually limit some of the things that you want to implement?

BLOOMBERG: Yes. That's why they can't come up with a solution or a replacement for the Affordable Care Act because when they look back home, they say, oh, my God. My constituents are not going to live with this if we cut out insurance for 20 million, 25 million people or whatever we do or get rid of covering pre-existing conditions. The public really does have a say. And you see that in the ballot box. And you see it between elections in how Congress approaches things.

They talk one thing, but then when it comes down to voting, every once in a while government commits suicide. The Democrats did that one time. And they lost control of the House and, I think, the Senate at the same time, if I remember, or certainly came close. And here the Republicans don't want that to happen.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Michael Bloomberg, thanks so much for joining us. And Dr. Kelly Henning of Bloomberg Philanthropies, thank you.

BLOOMBERG: Thank you for having us.

HENNING: Thank you.


Copyright © 2017 NPR. All rights reserved. Visit our website terms of use and permissions pages at www.npr.org for further information.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.