Want to save the United States money? Increase the NIH budget

Guest Column | Kansas City Business Journal

Representing Kansans in the United States Congress, I have the opportunity each day to meet with people who need my help. A small business owner or a veteran, a teacher or a student, no matter which political party, I am their voice in the House.

In my short time in elected office, perhaps no group of people has had a greater impact on me than those who are counting on researchers to find a cure for a disease.

From cancer to Parkinson’s to Alzheimer’s to diabetes, there are over 10,000 known diseases in the world. We have cures for just 500 of them.

Some diseases, like cancer or Alzheimer’s, afflict millions of Americans each year. Others, like Fragile X, affect far fewer. With each visitor to my office, I hear the personal challenges, the struggles, the loss of life, the heartbreak.

But I also hear hope — hope that a cure will be found; hope that researchers will make a breakthrough, like the parents of children with juvenile diabetes who are hoping for an artificial pancreas.

That hope leads us to the National Institutes of Health (NIH), the largest funder of research in the world, to the tune of $30 billion or more annually. The NIH spends more on cancer research in one year than the American Cancer Society has spent since its inception almost 50 years ago.

In Washington, funding for the NIH is one line item in our budget along with thousands of others fighting for attention. While many Americans have never heard of it, the NIH funds grants for research at world-class universities like the University of Kansas, where cutting-edge ideas become clinical trials and go on to save lives.

As budget debates go, $30 billion is a big deal. Yet it’s really a drop in the bucket compared to potential savings.

Medical costs associated with treating cancer are expected to top $200 billion annually by 2020. In contrast, we spent only $5.4 billion on cancer research at NIH in 2015. Even more staggering, medical costs associated with treating Alzheimer’s are expected to top $1 trillion by 2050, yet we spent just $586 million in 2015 researching a cure.

NIH spending is credited with breakthroughs leading to the mapping of the human genome, which has generated an economic impact of $796 billion — impressive considering Human Genome Project spending amounted to $3.8 billion. Curing cancer or Alzheimer’s would save our nation and our government trillions more over our lifetime. It’s penny wise and pound foolish not to invest in the discovery of cures.

That’s why I’ve called for doubling the NIH budget over the next 10 years. Each dollar spent is a step closer to a cure, and additional and stable resources will lead more bright minds to choose research as a career.

Cancer knows no political party. It targets us all indiscriminately, affecting each community and cul de sac in our country. It killed almost 600,000 Americans last year alone, killing more Americans each year than any war.

At the end of the year, I led a group of Republicans in the House that pushed for an increase in our investment in the NIH. As the dust cleared, I was proud that our work had paid off and the NIH received its biggest increase in 12 years: $2 billion.

There is still much work to be done. But on this day, I’m proud to say to each neighbor, friend and American: Don’t give up; remain hopeful. We have answered your call, resources are on the way, and maybe tomorrow we’ll find a cure.

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