MEDICAL RESEARCH: Administration Targets Cancer
Vice President Al Gore yesterday announced that the White House wants to increase funding for cancer research by $4.7 billion (or 65%) over five years, the Los Angeles Times reports. The vice president also said the Clinton administration will propose an "expansion of Medicare benefits for cancer patients" (Gerstenzang, 1/30). Although the added funding for cancer research will go to the National Institutes of Health at large, nearly 90% of the funds will be earmarked for the National Cancer Institute. According to the administration, the increase in funding has the potential to improve early detection and diagnoses of cancer; speed the research and development of new cancer drugs; increase adult participation in clinical trials and provide all cancer patients with cutting-edge information on treating the disease (release, 1/29). We're "right on the verge of a whole new phase in this war," Gore said. The AP/Philadelphia Inquirer reports that Health and Human Services Secretary Donna Shalala said the added funding "should allow NIH to fund about one-third of the approved research applications it receives" (Meckler, 1/30).
Last year, Clinton asked for only a two percent increase in funding for NIH. For next year, the president has proposed a $1.15 billion increase, or an eight percent jump. In addition, Clinton is asking for a 50% increase for the NIH over five years. Clinton is "counting on revenue" from $368.5 global tobacco settlement to fund the increase, "despite its shaky prospects on Capitol Hill." However, the AP/Baltimore Sun reports that prospects for more biomedical research funding are good because Congress "usually propose[s] spending more money than the president requests." Sen. Connie Mack (R-FL) said, "We are united in our effort to get the resources into the hands of the researchers." However, he asked, "Where are we going to find the money?" (1/30).
Gore unveiled the administration's proposal to expand Medicare benefits to pay all medical expenses of beneficiaries "who participate in clinical trials for cancer treatments as a part of a new demonstration project." The $750 million cost of the program would be underwritten by the global tobacco settlement "and would be kept separate from the regular Medicare program." Under the project, Medicare beneficiaries accepted for inclusion "in clinical trials sponsored by the [NIH] would have all associated medical and hospital bills paid by Medicare" (Los Angeles Times, 1/30). The Friends of Cancer Research yesterday praised the Clinton administration's proposal, saying it is "a significant step forward in the fight to eliminate cancer. ... There are promising new therapies that aren't being tested simply because we don't have the resources" (release, 1/29).
Gore traveled to California yesterday to tout other scientific research initiatives, including the administration's proposal for a $31 billion increase in funding for "three key federal science agencies" (Los Angeles Times, 1/3). The $31 billion increase was touted by President Clinton in his State of the Union speech; it would go toward the "creation of a ... 21st Century Research Fund to support civilian research programs." Gore also announced that the administration will support a $2.2 billion tax credit for the high-tech industry, the San Francisco Chronicle reports. Gore made the announcement at the offices of Genentech, a Bay-area biotech firm (Wildermouth, 1/30). First enacted in 1981, the Research and Experimentation Tax Credit "allows companies a 20% tax credit based on the increase in a firm's research and development," the San Jose Mercury News reports (Trounstine, 1/30).
Sen. Arlen Specter (R-PA), the chair of the Senate Appropriations subcommittee on labor, HHS and education, yesterday introduced a resolution calling for $2 billion more in funding for the NIH. Specter said, "The NIH is the crown jewel of the federal government, and has responded well to a steady increase in funding which it has received during my tenure in the Senate. ... During that time, the NIH has produced some really extraordinary research advances on research into Alzheimer's, AIDS and breast cancer. Now, all this needs to be pressed forward to see what exactly can be accomplished in the next century" (release, 1/30).
Federal officials yesterday told a House panel that "[f]unding for Alzheimer's research should be increased immediately, before millions of aging baby boomers begin showing symptoms of the disease and draining Medicare and Medicaid funds." The Washington Times reports that Alzheimer's "may have a devastating effect on the health care system," because Medicare spends 70% more on Alzheimer's patients than on other beneficiaries. NIH funding for Alzheimer's research "more than doubled in the early 1990s," but leveled off after 1992 (Larson, 1/30).