Although its battles over health insurance have dominated the headlines, Congress also provided a glimmer of good news on funding for medical research. Lawmakers, at least for this fiscal year, shunned President Trump’s request to slash the budget of the National Institutes of Health. Instead of giving it the billion-dollar haircut the Administration sought, Congress boosted the NIH budget by $2 billion for the five months left in the current fiscal year.
The added fiscal support will be a boon for important research on: cancer, Alzheimer’s, precision medicine, the brain, and the battle against superbugs.
I’ve written how Congress earlier had, with much fanfare, decided to set aside partisan concerns to provide a steady increase in medical science research, which has been budget starved for some time. But the president had demanded cuts across the board, particularly so he could hike the appropriations for areas like the military and homeland security—notably his much promised border wall with Mexico.
The president got some of his dollars for the Pentagon but none for his wall.
The NIH funding is important because the agency, which has many of its big facilities in the Washington, D.C., area, also serves as a significant research funder, awarding support across the country to universities, academic medical centers, and hospitals.
Even as there was good news for the national institutes, there was much less to cheer about on health care and funding for the federal Centers for Disease Control and the Office of National Drug Control Policy, a White House office that directs the country’s drug prevention efforts.
The U.S. House passage of the American Health Care Act, aka Trumpcare, axes almost $1 billion in funding for the CDC and its preventive programs, including battles that have popped up against tropical diseases like Ebola and Zika. House Republicans, as I’ve written, expressed anger and frustration that President Obama could tap the CDC budget, especially its preventive funds that they term a “slush fund,” to fight disease outbreaks when Congress delayed or demanded he deal with concerns like immigration that he deemed unrelated.
The Senate takes up the AHCA, and the CDC, meantime, will see a small cut in its budget for this fiscal year. The president has not nominated a new head of the agency, and there are concerns in some quarters that the Administration’s inattention to the vital government role in preventing disease may leave the nation vulnerable, especially if there is yet another significant outbreak.
Meantime, worries also are rising after reports have surfaced that presidential budget cutters have taken aim at the White House drug policy office. The Administration may want to “streamline” how it will battle illicit drugs, including powerful, addictive prescription painkillers.
But the mere mention of slashes to support for the office of the White House “drug czar,” has started to stir Congress. Lawmakers have said they nation, in the midst of an opioid drug abuse epidemic, needs every resource it can muster—not budget cuts in drug fighting areas.
In my practice, I see not only the harms that patients can suffer while seeking medical services but also the major woes that dangerous drugs can afflict on so many. I’m glad to see the nation fund valuable research that will advance our knowledge about the brain and targeting treatments better, even while stepping up the battles against deadly infections, cancer, and Alzheimer’s. The Administration should look carefully and act judiciously to ensure the country is well equipped to prevent and combat diseases and drug abuse. These scourges could do as much or more harm than military or homeland security challenges that Trump officials seem so focused on.