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Cuts Threaten Economy

As we’ve written before in Chicago Life, curing cancer should be our country’s top priority. According to the American Cancer Society, one in four deaths in our country is caused by cancer.  The National Institutes of Health reports that the total cost of cancer in 2008 was $226 billion including both direct medical costs and lost productivity from both the illness or premature death. This is the most important agenda we have. If we had the money to fund two wars off the books, surely we have enough money to invest in the health of our most precious resources—our people.
The recent politically-motivated sequester has not only been cruel to our most vulnerable, it has been short-sighted from a fiscal point of view. It has threatened jobs, lives, education and our status throughout the world. Why would Congress do such a terrible thing? After all, they work for us.
As soon as Congress found out that their travel schedules would be inconvenienced by their budget cuts, they instantly reversed budget cuts to airports. Why are budget cuts to this terrible illness less of a priority than untimely flights? The cuts in medical research are a direct result of political agendas. This is shameful, especially considering recent research that says the deficit is falling more quickly than anticipated.
According to the Campaign for America’s Future, in his blog, Dave Johnson writes that the Sequester Closes Cancer Clinic Doors, Congress Does Nothing. Many of us think that cancer clinic accessibility should trump keeping airports running on time. The Huffington Post reports that all over the U.S., cancer patients are worrying about the cuts to Medicare that will affect their treatments. Some clinic patients will have to travel thousands of miles to secure treatment unless the sequester cuts are restored. Some oncologists are being forced to suspend expensive chemotherapy treatments for their patients because they won’t be able to afford to continue to treat their patients in a clinic setting. But, instead of saving the government more money, treating some of these cancer patients in a hospital setting will cost an average of $6,500 per patient more per year, according to a study from the actuarial firm Milliman and quoted by the Washington Post in Common Dreams. How could we let this happen?

Biomedical treatments are on the brink

Francis Collins, head of the National Institutes of Health (NIH) recently reported that the U.S. funding cuts of 5 percent are disasterous when scientists are finally finding treatments for diseases such as Alzheimer’s disease and diabetes. He told MSNBC that we spend $200 billion to treat Alzheimer’s today. Yet Congress has cut research just at the time we most need it.
According to Healthcare Finance News and the American Cancer Society’s “Catalyst for Cures” report, NIH funding represents less than 1 percent of the Federal budget and 37 percent of that amount goes to cancer research. Cutting federal research is not only wrong-headed and pound-foolish; for every dollar of Federal research funding, private industry chips in 32 cents in private sector financing. When you cut medical research, you cut the possibility of healing future patients as well as creating promising research jobs of tomorrow.
Announcing cuts in research makes it more than difficult for some scientists to continue their research because many research grants run on fiscal years (meaning that cuts could happen immediately,  midstream in their research) and sometimes cover 5-year periods of time.  You can imagine how devastating these cuts can be for researchers who had counted on working in the U.S. Now they may not be able to continue their work here because funding has been cut by 5 percent. They may have to move to a country such as India or China, countries where they are increasing funding 20 percent. No wonder tenure-track postdoctoral researchers are feeling threatened by the cutbacks. Why would they pursue academic biomedical research in a field with little money and “grim job prospects?”
Why do our Congressional representatives ignore the seriousness of these terrible cuts? For one thing, most have very little experience or education in science. If they did, some of these same representatives wouldn’t be denying global warming. Rarely do politicians start out in life as biologists, scientists or doctors. They don’t know how these trials work and are listening to the wishes of their wealthy donors, above all. Sick patients are not lobbying as effectively as huge industries. Unless your representative has a loved one suffering with a deadly disease (that’s actually 1 out of 2 or 3 of us) don’t expect your representatives to give a hoot. They are busy stirring up political soup or restoring timely service to airports so they personally won’t be “inconvenienced.” Forget about saving lives.

NIH cuts threaten the economy
According to thinkprogress.org, Dr. Donna Arnett, President of the American Heart Association, said that “Unless we restore NIH funding now, the treatment or cure your family will desperately need in the future may never be discovered.” But this research doesn’t merely change and save lives, it also helps our economy. The NIH will lose $12.5 billion this year, resulting in $860 billion in lost economic growth over the next nine years. ThinkProgress cites the human genome project that resulted in $800 billion in economic activity. These kinds of economic cuts would, by themselves, be ridiculous. But in the field of medical research, we sacrifice the lives of our loved ones suffering from diseases that have no cures yet. We rob them of their futures, increase suffering, increase unemployment through the loss of 500,000 jobs, and threaten American leadership in the scientific community.
The sequester has shown a lack of respect for the postdoctoral students who have invested their futures in independent research. Many will think twice about continuing their work in the U.S., when we show a complete disregard for the work of these scientists. There are hospitals and organizations abroad that fund their scientists’ grants far into the future. Why would an aspi ring scientist remain here when we show such disregard for their work and investment in cures?

We are better than this.

Published: June 15, 2013
Issue: Summer 2013 Issue