A Weekly Advocacy Message from Research!America: The good, the bad, and the ugly

Dear Research Advocate:

Congress continues to pay particular attention to – and make decisions bearing on – the pace of medical progress. To briefly count the ways:

The Senate Labor-HHS Appropriations subcommittee heard testimony yesterday from agency heads within HHS about the significance of health-related spending, including spending on medical and health research. Read our written testimony here.

Congressman Upton (R-MI-06), the Chair of the House Energy and Commerce Committee (which has jurisdiction over authorizing legislation for NIH, CDC, FDA and AHRQ) and Congresswoman Diana DeGette (D-CO-01), a member of the Committee, launched their 21st Century Cures initiative with a roundtable discussion focused on identifying what actions are necessary to maintain our nation’s place as the world’s innovation leader. While Reps. Upton and DeGette are champions of research who should be commended for working to strengthen U.S. medical innovation, there is always the risk that Congress will veer into micromanagement of NIH, stymie FDA’s efforts to ensure that private sector innovators are rewarded for ensuring the safety and efficacy of their medical advances, or “hold off” on providing the funding needed to accelerate medial progress until  longer-term strategies are in place. Your participation can help make this effort a success, and the initiative has established an email address you can use if you wish to give input: cures@mail.house.gov.

So that’s the good.

The House released its 302(B) allocations, the overall funding available to each appropriations subcommittee. The Labor-H Subcommittee, which funds NIH, CDC, and AHRQ, received an alarmingly small allocation, a full $1 billion less than that of FY 2014. While a constrained allocation was anticipated because of continued opposition to funding for the Affordable Care Act, this appropriation level would render it virtually impossible to achieve real growth in funding for medical or health research. The word “virtually” is important. The Senate allocations are expected to be different than the House allocations, and there are strong champions of medical and health research in the House. Securing the funding for NIH, CDC, and AHRQ that is justified by their positive impact on America and Americans was never going to be easy. This just makes the task that much more challenging. But research advocates have never shied away from a challenge.

So that’s the bad.

Here’s the ugly.

Legislation to make the Research and Development tax credit permanent has turned into a political punching bag. Why? Why didn’t the two parties come together, find a pay-for, and take action to spur private sector innovation? Patients need it, job-seekers need it, our economy needs it. When will the nation’s very future, which relies on innovation and more innovation, supercede short-term political goals? A perfect segue into our Ask Your Candidates! voter education initiative. Voters should know whether their candidates will fight for medical innovation or sideline it. Here’s a link to more info on Ask Your Candidates!, including our first on-the-ground event in Georgia tomorrow.

But back to the ugly: the rumor mill continues to churn about legislation that would prevent appropriators from “tapping” NIH funding. The tap mechanism, as we’ve described in previous letters, is a predetermined set-aside from certain HHS agencies that is used to fund other HHS agencies, including AHRQ, the National Center for Health Statistics and the Administration on Children and Families. Each of these agencies supports, conducts, or provides the data necessary for research that saves lives, including the lives of at-risk children.  The tap does not “reduce” funding for NIH (or any other agency for that matter), since appropriators know in advance the amount of dollars that will be “tapped” and can simply adjust funding for NIH and the other “donor” agencies upward to account for it.   That said, it would certainly be simpler to directly fund AHRQ and the other agencies and programs now financed through the tap.

What is so disturbing about the “anti-tap” movement is that the policymakers behind it apparently have no intention of providing any funding for AHRQ or the other agencies and programs now covered by the tap. In  other words, bye bye life-saving research. Have Americans informed Congress that it’s not important to prevent deadly medical errors (which account for approximately 100,000 deaths per year), that it’s not important to ensure patients in rural areas aren’t subjected to yesterday’s medical treatments, that it’s not important to protect vulnerable children in the foster care system? Ask your representatives in Congress to champion health research rather than using back channels to simply “make it go away.” Tell them that saving lives and protecting kids is worth the money.

One more concern about the anti-tap movement: if policymakers in the House can claim that they “increased” NIH funding in FY 15 by eliminating the tap on it, do you think they will actually provide the much larger funding increase NIH needs?

Finally and on a more positive note, we’d like to thank our extraordinary members for joining a tweetathon encouraging Congress to take action now and increase medical and health research funding in FY 15. Your messages reached more than 200,000 people or organizations, particularly members of Congress. That’s advocacy in action, and it’s because of you.

This week’s letter was authored by Ellie Dehoney, Vice President of Policy and Advocacy at Research!America.


Ellie Dehoney

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