Coverage, communication and cures at heart of U.S. – France Leadership Dialogue dinner on health and innovation

Global Health at Meridian


Paris has been top of mind for Americans the past few weeks. Last month’s attack by Islamic extremists and the ongoing COP 21 negotiations have been well covered by the American media and have elicited a wide range of responses by political candidates on both sides of the aisle. It is with this in mind that Meridian President and CEO Stuart Holliday opened the most-recent convening of the U.S.-France Leadership Dialogue on December 7 by reiterating the importance of global engagement. “What this nation is all about is engaging the world and not closing our borders. Not pulling up the draw bridge, but using our friendships with countries like France to strengthen the protection of things we hold dear: our tolerance, our respect for rule of law and our value systems.” Serving as keynote speaker, Health and Human Services (HHS) Assistant Secretary for Global Affairs Jimmy Kolker bridged recent events with the theme of the evening, health and innovation, by acknowledging that epidemics inspire the same type of fear and vulnerability as terrorist attacks. This set the stage for a panel moderated by French-American Cultural Foundation (FACF) President and former U.S. Permanent Representative to UNESCO Louise V. Oliver and guided table conversations over dinner, both of which centered on synergy and partnerships between the United States and France on biomedical breakthroughs and cutting-edge research and services.

Hosted at Meridian International Center in partnership with FACF and through the support of the Richard Lounsbery Foundation, the program underscored several initiatives that the United States and France are partnering on in the areas of health research and health care delivery. Ambassador Kolker and Dr. Mireille Guyader, U.S. Office Director of the French National Institute of Health and Medical Research (INSERM), were both keen to highlight collaboration on Ebola vaccines and cures, data collection to evaluate AIDS, and joint work between our respective national cancer institutes.

Similarities and differences between France and the United States in health services, health delivery, and health innovation abound. Intermountain Healthcare Chief Quality Officer Brent James brought up the issue of waste stating that “the amount of money that is not spent efficiently or effectively in health care delivery is between 30% and 60% in both countries,” while RowdMap Co-Founder and CEO Josh Rosenthal contested that both countries have a single-payer system when you consider that the large majority of U.S. assistance comes through the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid (CMS). The different between the French and American systems, he states, is that CMS outsources the support.

Everyone on the panel was united in the belief that France has much to teach the United States in how to promote healthy behaviors and effective public health.

To have innovation in health, as Dr. Guyader explained, you need science, funding and entrepreneurs working in a favorable ecosystem that allows innovation to be brought to the market. She states that both countries have arrived at this ecosystem, but in different ways. “In France, most of the funding still comes from the government not from venture capitalists and philanthropists as in the U.S.” There was a recognition that Americans are willing to accept much greater risk than the French and also that philanthropy is much more a part of U.S. culture than it is in French society. At the same time, it was the e-health entrepreneur in the group, Dr. Rosenthal, who surprisingly declared that the greatest U.S. innovations in population health, data science and economic impact were coming from the federal government. Specifically, those “boring, unglamorous, unsexy, uninteresting people at CMS” in Washington as opposed to the young and trendy tech entrepreneurs in Silicon Valley. What Dr. Rosenthal is getting at is the government agency’s release of data to the public. By open sourcing the data, entrepreneurs have a much better ability to innovate and achieve advancements in health service and delivery. While this is a concept that could benefit France, Dr. Rosenthal points to France’s longitudinal records as something that the European nation brings to the table in this partnership. Whereas France maintains health records over a period of many years, this is confined to only a few in the U.S. so Americans will rely on France’s longitude records for health research.

The United States and France collaborate on Ebola vaccines and cures, data collection to evaluate AIDS, and efforts to fight cancer through their respective national cancer institutes.

Although there was disagreement among the panelists on some areas including health care spending effectiveness, everyone on the panel was united in the belief that France has much to teach the United States in how to promote healthy behaviors and effective public health. In fact, the audience was astonished to learn that smoking levels are actually lower in France than in the United States. This was seen as more of a policy challenge than a technical one.

Finally, everyone in attendance from featured speakers to the audience comprised of start-up entrepreneurs, pharmaceutical executives, government officials, academics and biomedical scientists were in agreement with Dr. James closing statement, “By collaborating together, all teach and all learn,” we get there faster.” This holds true not only in areas of health, but across all sectors in the global economy, and it is this recognition of the need for cooperation and engagement that Meridian convenes the U.S. – France Leadership Dialogue and similar neutral forums.