Slashing NIH budget by double digits won’t affect medical research, Price claims

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Sec. Price

“Whenever a budget is released, the most common question asked in Washington is ‘how much?’ How much money does the budget spend on this program, how much does it cut from that other program? As a former legislator, I understand the importance of this question. But too often, it’s treated as the only question worth asking about a budget — as if how much a program spends is more important than, or somehow indicative of, whether the program actually works.” U.S. Secretary of Health and Human Services Dr. Thomas Price, testifying today before the Senate Appropriations Subcommittee on Labor, Health and Human Services, Education, and Related Agencies

Like Secretary of State Rex Tillerson the day before, Secretary of Human Services Dr. Tom Price came to Capitol Hill this morning to defend a budget that in his words “does not confuse government spending with government success.”

It is budget, in fact, that so distinguishes the two, that it proposes to slash funding for medical research at the National Institutes of Health by $7.2 billion, more than 20 percent of its current budget, setting the world’s leading research centers back to levels not seen in 15 years, as  Sen. Dick Durbin (D- Ill) pointed out.

He noted the Secretary’s introductory remarks that “The problem with many of our Federal programs is not that they are too expensive or too underfunded. The problem is that they do not work — they fail the very people they are meant to help . . .”

Seen. Durbin

“Do I take it from that,” Sen. Durbin asked, “that you and the President have concluded that our medical research programs at NIH have failed the American people?”

Not at all, Sec. Price insisted, offering to “peel the onion back a little bit.” What he and the President believe, he continued, is “that there are savings to be garnered that won’t affect, not —  not only the number of grantees that would be provided a grant, but the amount of moneys . . .”

The math behind that would have been interesting, particularly in the case of the NIH Fogarty International Center, which would be eliminated under the White House proposal, and which with the smallest budget of all the institutes, supports international medical research collaborations that promote global advances against infectious and chronic diseases with 80 percent of its funding supporting work at U.S. Universities. But the Secretary didn’t provide the math.

By then he had been told by Subcommittee Chair Roy Blunt (R-MO), who listing the proposed cuts to NIH and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, “It’s hard to imagine we would do that.”

He had been told by Sen. Lamar Alexander (R-TN) “My goal is not to decrease funding [for medical research] but to continue to increase it.”

He still didn’t supply the math when he was asked by Sen. Durbin, now, “How can you argue that giving 20 percent less money to the NIH researchers, and 18 percent less money to health departments and CDC is going to achieve the reform you’re talking about? I’ll tell you what it does achieve, it’s a dramatic cutback to research.”

With a domestic health plan in the works behind closed doors dominating the discussion, proposed elimination of all funding to Planned Parenthood, an opioid epidemic raging across this country in the midst of proposed cuts to health and human services, the math of  how medical research advances as support retreats never was explained —  too many issues, too little time.

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