Dear Research Advocate:
So much is troubling our nation – evidenced in protests of recent grand jury decisions and the controversy over release of the Senate’s report on the CIA – that most people probably haven’t noticed or cared that the Congress is delaying and may even abort action on the long overdue funding of the federal fiscal year that began on Oct. 1. People have grown tired of Congress missing self-imposed deadlines, only to say they can only act in the face of those deadlines, and now they are talking of doing it again. And thus we are lulled into thinking it doesn’t matter what the Congress does. But that would be wrong: priority-setting by the Congress plays a major role in determining the economic security and health status of the nation and everyone in it.
Right now, Congress is keeping the nation in limbo, and not just when it comes to funding deadlines. “How low can we go” does seem to be the theme of the appropriations process. If the currently negotiated plan is adopted and signed into law – and that is a big if – the good news is that one-time supplemental funding will be allocated to NIH, CDC and other agencies to work on advancing Ebola-related research and clinical trials. That aside, NIH and CDC would receive razor thin increases compared to FY14, as noted in our statement about the “Cromnibus.” NSF and FDA fare slightly better with increases reaching the level of full percentage points, 2.4 percent and 1.4 percent, respectively. AHRQ is slated to receive a decrease of .08 percent, but, importantly, the agency will at long last be given budget authority, i.e., will not have to rely on passing the hat, so to speak, to other agencies to help fund it. Now Congress must take AHRQ to a higher level of support if we are ever to get our arms around inefficiencies in health care delivery.
The negotiated agreement is underwhelming at best. We are wasting time due to desultory decision-making and, of more importance to your family and mine, losing ground in finding the answers to what ails us. Congress, are you listening?
Is there any good news? Early in the 114th Congress, we expect to see movement on the bipartisan 21st Century Cures legislation and also on repealing tax policies that restrict innovation in the private sector. Research to improve our nation’s health is not optional; it is an American imperative. That’s something to keep in mind as you and I watch the Congress in the next few days, as they act – or not (!) – on already overdue decision-making, and it’s also something to keep in mind in your New Year’s resolutions. That is, resolve not to be a spectator in 2015; reach out to members of the new Congress – urge them to hit the ground running!