RESEARCH FUNDING: Most Americans Support Increases
According to a recent poll of 10 states, most Americans support doubling federal spending for medical research over the next five years. According to medical research advocacy group Research! America, only three cents of every health care dollar is spent on medical research, and less than 1% of the federal budget is spent on disease prevention research and programs. About 60% of those polled said they would be willing to pay $1 more each week for health insurance, prescription drugs or taxes in order to support medical research. In four states, more than two-thirds of respondents said "they'd be more likely to vote for a candidate who is a strong supporter of federal spending for medical research." Ironically, the poll also found that most respondents were unaware of their representatives' position on the issue. Some 74% of Americans believe the media does not provide enough coverage of medical research issues. Only 1% of Americans mentioned cloning as a medical research concern of theirs. At a Monday press conference sponsored by the Hastings Center, Research! America President Mary Woolley said Americans think research "should be one of our nation's top priorities as we enter the next century. Our nation's leaders need to recognize that as they determine their legislative agenda." The poll, conducted by Charlton Research Company in July 1998, had a margin of error of +/-3% (Research! America release, 2/1).
In an op-ed in the yesterday's Wall Street Journal, Albert Hunt deplores President Clinton's proposed 2% increase in NIH funding as an "unconscionable retreat." Hunt charges that Clinton is skirting last year's bipartisan resolution to double the health research budget within five years. He accuses the president of "playing a political game," noting that Clinton Tuesday met privately with Sen. Edward Kennedy (D-MA) and other health research advocates, telling them "defensively" that, as NIH funding enjoys broad support from Republicans, appropriations will likely be boosted above the 2% increase anyway. But, Hunt argues, "With the president coming in so low this year, it may be very hard to ratchet it up another 15% hike" as in last year's budget. As for fears that NIH cannot effectively manage another huge increase, Hunt writes that "experts insist" that the quality of current studies is easily maintainable, given that only 30% of grant applications currently receive funding. In further support of research, Hunt cites a Duke University study which showed that "scientific advances are making major inroads in curbing disability among the elderly" and argues that if the trend continues, savings in Medicare costs could be substantial. Hunt also quotes "investment guru" Peter Lynch, who compared the U.S. and European economies, concluding that the U.S. economy added 17 million more new jobs than the European Union because "America makes the investment in basic science." Hunt concludes, "A federal budget ... is a partial roadmap of a society's priorities" and writes that "none are more important than continuing a major and bold effort to fund research for medical breakthroughs that will make us a much healthier and more productive society" (2/4).