by Mary Woolley, Research!America President and CEO. This entry was originally posted as a guest contribution to PhRMA’s Conversations forum.
A shift in attitude among elected officials is necessary if this nation is to succeed in combating disease and stemming the rise of health care costs. Federal funding for the National Institutes of Health (NIH), the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), and other agencies that conduct medical and health research has not kept pace with scientific opportunity, jeopardizing our ability to find cures for deadly disease and to maintain our global competitive edge. Medical research has not risen to the upper ranks of our nation’s priorities in the halls of Congress; advocacy from stakeholders is critical to changing this.
Underfunded federal agencies that should be providing the catalyst for private sector innovation to help bend the cost curve are instead forced to cut and cut. Even as federal funding diminishes, the burden of disease rages on, exacting a tremendous financial and emotional toll on patients and families stressed by learning of delays in the next phase of promising research that could one day lead to cures. And not only are our elected officials giving too little attention to key federal agencies, they are not prioritizing policy-making that will incentivize the private sector to accelerate the development of new treatments and therapies for patients. There is a lot of talk about the value of innovation, but not a lot of action to stimulate it.
What will it take to change this disturbing situation? We urge heightened awareness that medical research leads to better health outcomes and lower spending. Americans understand this simple equation — more than two decades’ worth of public opinion polling shows broad support for medical research, as well as, in recent years, heightened concern that we are not making as much medical progress as we ought to be. It’s hard to make progress with one hand tied behind the back of the research ecosystem, and with well-justified fears about the future of this enterprise in our nation, who can blame researchers for looking elsewhere for career options? This isn’t what the American public wants or expects.
More than half of Americans are even willing to pay $1 per week more in taxes if they were certain that all of the money would be spent on additional medical research. We urge policy makers to recognize that Americans support a strong investment in research to improve health and ensure our economic prosperity. Without their leadership, the research enterprise in the U.S. risks continued foundering.
The citizenry of this nation would be well-served by sustained funding for the NIH, the FDA, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the National Science Foundation, and the Agency for Healthcare Quality and Research. Each plays a part in the discovery and application of medical breakthroughs. And we would be well-served by a policy landscape favorable to private sector innovation in order to reap all the health and economic rewards of cutting-edge research and development conducted in this country.
When policy aligns with these goals, we will achieve the maximum benefit to patients and to our nation’s dual bottom lines: healthier people and a healthier economy.
Getting from here to there will require an understanding and appreciation among elected officials that research to improve health is the most direct path to a healthier future. It’s the responsibility of all the stakeholders in research to speak out to their elected representatives to make our case.