As we address reform, we must preserve what is good about the current system.
For example, the strong relationship between physician and patient must be protected. Physicians have skills that are broader than a pill or vaccine, and they are a trusted source of healing and health information.
More than one-third of the patients who contacted my company about our prescription savings programs in the past year noted that they had heard about the programs from their health-care professionals.
It is the physician, in consultation with the patient, who should decide what treatment is best for each individual.
Current efforts to prevent chronic diseases must be enhanced. Today, 75 cents out of every dollar spent on health care is spent on chronic diseases. But while chronic diseases are among the most common and costly health problems, they are also among the most preventable. Furthermore, chronic diseases disproportionately affect low-income Americans.
Companies such as AstraZeneca P.L.C. need to ask: "Are our medicines making their way to the individuals who need them most, and are least likely to be able to afford them?"
Because when treatments don't reach a population - no matter how effective they may be - we haven't made a mark.
We must learn from successful public-private sector programs such as the Medicare prescription drug benefit to ensure that everyone has affordable access to health insurance coverage, including prescription drug coverage.
In Delaware, where our U.S. business is headquarted, we have a partnership with the state, Christiana Care Health System, the local United Way, and other organizations to connect uninsured families with free or low-cost health care.
In its first year, this effort linked more than 4,000 uninsured Delawareans to health services, prescription medicines or transportation to medical appointments.
To make progress, we must continue to foster private-sector innovation. The pharmaceutical industry's fundamental responsibility is to build a pipeline of medicines that make a difference in patients' lives.
Our scientists are working on the next treatment for diseases such as cancer, diabetes, Alzheimer's disease and infection. Our success depends upon a free market in which competition cuts costs and encourages investment.
With the Democratic and Republican national conventions now concluded, election season officially begins. It is important for our political leaders to recognize that while the pharmaceutical industry does not have all the answers, we want to be part of the solution.
To play a role, the pharmaceutical industry must demonstrate that it is taking its responsibilities seriously.
That starts with being transparent - to patients, physicians and the public. The changes our industry announced in a revised code of conduct on interactions with health-care professionals go a long way in ensuring that we can have a trusted voice on important issues.
I envision that we can improve a health-care system in which more people are treated, fewer people are hospitalized, and medicines will be viewed as an investment, not a cost.
We won't make changes by standing on the sidelines. We won't do it by waiting for someone else to take a lead. We want to do it by playing a collaborative, proactive role in shaping a system that helps Americans lead longer and happier lives.
Tony Zook is president and CEO of AstraZeneca North America.
E-mail Tony Zook at email@example.com.