Budget sequestration could soon cost us in lives

An excerpt of an op-ed by Robert I. Field, PhD, JD, MPH, professor of the Earle Mack School of Law & Drexel School of Public Health published in Philly.com.

Robert I. Field

Robert I. Field, PhD, JD, MPH

What do we get when Congress cuts federal spending across-the-board? Does it bring lower taxes, smaller deficits, and less bureaucracy?

How about worse health care, less medical innovation, and lost lives?

The budget sequester that Congress enacted in 2011 began to take effect this year with spending cuts for most federal programs. So far, the majority of Americans have seen little change. Some may even applaud the idea of forcing the federal government to make due with less.

But the sequester is about to exert an especially sinister effect that lies just outside of public view. It could cripple medical research.

The National Institutes of Health is the largest single source of biomedical research funding in the world. It supports work at most universities in the United States and at many around the world.

That’s not just important to the physicians and researchers who work at those institutions. It’s vitally important to everyone. NIH funding stands behind the development of almost every major drug that has emerged over the past 50 years. You can see the impact of this agency every time you open your medicine cabinet. It has also brought us countless medical devices and procedures. And led to 83 Nobel prizes.

As a federal agency, NIH will feel the sequester’s effects just like all the others. That means a budget cut of 5%, or $155 billion, during the current fiscal year.

The cut will affect every field of medical research. The agency will award about 700 fewer research grants and admit about 750 fewer patients for experimental treatments in its Clinical Center. It will also reduce most outstanding grants by an average of almost 5%. And it will spend less on training future researchers.

What kinds of research will be affected? The cuts will impact studies into causes and treatments of almost every major disease. Cancer, heart disease, stroke, diabetes, Parkinson’s disease, Alzheimer’s disease and autism are but a few. Cutting-edge advances, like those in genetics, will take an especially hard hit.

Read the full op-ed here.

Drexel University College of Medicine is a Research!America member.

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