Wednesday, December 18, 2013

Celebrate spending

    Before both Republican and Democratic members of Congress get too pleased with themselves for passing a federal budget for the first time in three years, they might consider the high cost of doing so by cut-ting funds to important institutions such as the National Institutes of Health.
    The American Society for Clinical On-cology says that the future has never looked better for progress against cancer, the horrid disease that has devastated so many of our family, friends and col-leagues. The society notes, however, that “vital research is facing its greatest threat in a generation,” and that threat is coming from the Congress.
    Paul Ryan, chair of the House Commit-tee on the Budget, is busy taking bows for the new budget. It’s fair to wonder whether Ryan is aware that in his state of Wisconsin, 31,000 people will be diagnosed with cancer in the next year, at least 87 every day. Because of funding cuts already made to the National Institutes of Health, one thousand fewer people were able to enroll in potentially life-saving clinical trials this past year alone.
    Republicans as well as Democrats ought to applaud new cancer drugs approved in just one year rather than point to the cuts they are making. “Funding at a high level is imperative,” says Dr. Jyoti Patel, an oncologist at Northwestern University’s School of Medicine and senior author of the report. For NIH, there are other criti-cal advances—in areas like Parkinson’s disease and diabetes—that have been slowed by the budget cuts.  
    Work on research projects cannot be held back or temporarily stopped for a year or more and then be started up again, with outcomes simply picked up where they were left off. Research stopped is re-search wasted.
    Fighting disease is a bipartisan issue. Sen. Susan Collins, R-Maine, points out, “We spend only $500 million annually on Alzheimer’s research, and it costs Medi-care and Medicaid $142 billion,” she said. “It’s going to bankrupt our health care system, and we’re spending only a pittance on prevention.”
    There will certainly be those who will be shocked by Collins’ plan to double the Alzheimer’s research budget immediately and then double it again to $2 billion an-nually within five years.
    Collins, no believer in wild spending, understands that NIH is an exception to most cases in which huge increases in spending would cause reckless waste and inefficiency. Fifteen years ago, NIH’s budget doubled in five years and the re-sults were better than ever. That is what we all should be celebrating.

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