Sequestration: The NIH and Health Research at the Breaking Point

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No way to end an epidemic: The Budget Control Act, or Sequestration, established caps on defense and non-defense discretionary programs to reduce their funding by $1 trillion over 10 years. Because congress failed to come up with a deficit reduction plan “sequestration” forces automatic cuts in vital government programs. These cuts are already in place for this year and additional cuts will come in October (and through 2021) unless Congress acts to stop them.

This year, sequestration has led to hundreds of billions of dollars in federal budget cuts including $1.55 billion for the National Institutes of Health (NIH). But is cutting vital health and medical research the right approach for reducing the federal deficit? According to the report entitled “Sequestration: Health Research at the Breaking Point,” NIH related research fuels the economy by creating new businesses and jobs, reigning in the care costs for disease, reducing health care waste and inefficiencies, and it saves lives. In fact, NIH related research has helped save tens of millions of lives!

It is an outrage that Congress wouldn’t stop the first round of sequestration cuts that went into effect in March. The NIH had to cut more than 5% of its budget in every area of research. This means 700 fewer NIH research grants will be issued and 750 fewer patients will be admitted to the NIH Clinical Center (often these patients are in need of NIH care because they are afflicted by something extraordinary). And it will only get worse. In October, sequestration 2.0 means 8% budget cuts!

Basic health-science research can involve years of incremental study and effort before evolving into clinical, drugs into bodies, research. After that it can take more than ten years and $1 billion in clinical trials before a treatment is FDA approved. Sequestration will mean delayed progress in medical breakthroughs for HIV/AIDS, cancer, alzheimers, diabetes, heart disease, and so on.

Another downside is these cuts may interrupt NIH research to the point where some of it may never be able to get back on track. This year only one out of six grant applications submitted to the NIH will get funded. Research teams doing important work can only stay together for so long without funding. Once that disappears researchers will be forced to move on leaving their work unfinished. Imagine a cure for AIDS, diabetes, or a type of cancer remaining undiscovered because the researchers lost their funding and their jobs.

Speaking of jobs, NIH research also supports hundreds of thousands of American jobs. Boston, a center of scientific and medical research, has already been hit hard by the sequester cuts. Just listen to the WGBH report “Cutbacks On University Research Funding Could Hamper Innovation” posted below. After listening, think about making a commitment to fight the sequester.

Next: Public Health Pays a Price


One thought on “Sequestration: The NIH and Health Research at the Breaking Point

  1. Pingback: George Will (of all people): The sequester’s a public health hazard | Attitude

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