A Weekly Advocacy Message from Mary Woolley: Reading between the Lines and then Taking Action

Dear Research Advocate,

As you know, the Republican Party Platform was unveiled Tuesday during the convention in Tampa. There are direct references to medical and health research and other statements that — if not explicit — definitely imply the need for such research. We can draw from both to enhance our advocacy efforts.

The following exemplifies the direct and indirect nature of the platform’s embrace of medical and health research:

“We support federal investment in health care delivery systems and solutions creating innovative means to provide greater, more cost-effective access to high quality health care. We also support federal investment in basic and applied biomedical research, especially the neuroscience research that may hold great potential for dealing with diseases and disorders such as autism, Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s. If we are to make significant headway against breast and prostate cancer, diabetes and other killers, research must consider the special needs of formerly neglected groups.”

The platform explicitly supports federal funding for basic and applied medical research, and, if I am interpreting the text correctly, acknowledges the need to address health disparities as part of the nation’s research agenda. This statement also implies the need for health services research (HSR) to devise “solutions” that improve health care access, cost-effectiveness and quality. Unfortunately the House Labor-H appropriations bill precludes NIH funding for health economics research — a key subset of HSR — and virtually zeroes out the budget of the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality, the main funder of HSR. The platform provides advocates fresh talking points as final appropriations decisions are made later this year.

The Republican platform also states: “Even expensive prevention is preferable to more costly treatment later on.” While the rest of the statement focuses on personal responsibility, research plays an undeniable role in effective prevention. Vaccines, the nicotine patch, successful drug and alcohol addiction treatment programs … all are grounded in research. Advocates can segue directly from the platform to the importance of prevention research at CDC and other agencies … and we should. Three other sections of the platform are noteworthy. It goes hard on the FDA, asserting that it needs significant reform. The platform does not mention funding, but there is a logical connection here. Patient groups, scientists, industry and FDA leaders themselves are all committed to strengthening the agency and are working hard to accomplish just that. Support for FDA reform cannot logically be decoupled from support for FDA funding, a point that must not get lost in the reform debate.

Second, the platform advocates making the R&D tax credit permanent. Bravo!  We should increase and make other improvements to the credit as well.

Finally, the platform opposes embryonic stem cell research. Not a surprise, but a disappointment.  Proponents must keep fighting this battle, drawing strength from the recent court victory in which President Obama’s executive order was once again upheld.

There is much to applaud in the Republican platform when it comes to federal support for both medical and health research. Let’s take that and run with it. In an article that appeared this week in Forbes, John Zogby discusses the results of our recent national poll. He focuses on the exceptional level of agreement between different demographic and ideological subsets of the American population on issues related to health and medical research. We see that reality reflected in many of the planks in the Republican platform. Indeed most of the results from our poll will not surprise you (except, perhaps, the fact that a majority of Americans of all stripes would pay a dollar more per week in taxes if they knew it was going toward medical research), but it’s a fact that most policy makers have not embraced medical progress as a goal worthy of mentioning in campaign speeches or on their campaign websites. Platforms aside, this gives Americans no basis by which to evaluate whether individual candidates will champion or chop research funding and no assurance that they will take medical innovation into account when evaluating policy decisions that could stimulate or stifle it. Your Candidates-Your Health is an important way that candidates can make their opinions known about medical and health research. Advocates can do their part by attending town halls, visiting campaign offices, writing op-eds and letters to the editor, and using these polling results to convince candidates that promoting medical progress should be one of their core missions.

We have our work cut out for us, but we will succeed if we do more than parse the rhetoric — we have to take action!

Sincerely,

Mary Woolley

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