Whitney Bowman-Zatzkin

Whether it comes in the form of the Sequester or another fix that pulls us back off the edge of the cliff, Congress is deep in conversations to sort out ways to address the current financial picture of the country and the list of financial legislation expiring soon. Members of Congress aren’t shy about sharing their version of how to turn things around — one thing is certain: change is ahead and it is not painting a bright future for health programs and research.

One of the groups most involved in this effort is NDDUnited, featuring representatives from the Non-Defense Discretionary community. Earlier this summer the group assembled nearly 3,000 organizations to ask Congress to seek a balanced approach to deficit reduction. One of NDDUnited’s members, the Coalition for Health Funding, has worked to demonstrate the impact of further cuts to health programs and research funding.

“Public health programs and health research already contributed to deficit reduction through the bipartisan Budget Control Act, to continue to look to these programs for deeper cuts will likely disable our nation’s local communities,” comments Emily Holubowich, Executive Director of the Coalition for Health Funding. “Further cuts will reduce the number of police officers keeping our neighborhoods safe, strip rural communities of their health centers, and cut teachers from our classrooms.”

At its recent briefing, “It’s Worse Than You Think: The Impact of Continued Cuts on Core Programs and Services,” NDDUnited led a discussion with more than 130 Congressional staff and attendees on the job losses and program terminations resulting from continued cuts in public health funding.  Already, the panel noted, 55,000 state and local public health professionals, those involved in disaster and outbreak response efforts and responsible for safety inspections at restaurants and water purification facilities, have been laid off as a result of past efforts to deficit reduction.

A recent publication from Research!America reflects on the impact Sequestration will have on health research through cuts to the National Institutes of Health, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality, Food and Drug Administration, and National Science Foundation. All told, the report estimates the 7.8% cut will pull approximately $3.6 billion from these agencies. This funding comes from all agency programs including those focused on patient safety, health information technology, disease-specific new medication research, and new practitioner development. Taking a deeper look at the nation’s schools of pharmacy, as an example, every $1 million of NIH funding cut from an institution’s research funding could mean that 4 post-docs, 8 graduate research assistants, and 8 lab assistants could lose their jobs.

Reaching beyond the estimates for job loss and program funding, the aftershocks of delayed research innovation and exploration for the development of new medications leaves a hefty list of patients suffering through symptoms we might resolve with continued funding.

“We haven’t given up,” Holubowich concludes. “We ask that Members of Congress think before they cut – bipartisan support of a balanced approach to the deficit is possible. As members of the health community, we have already contributed to reducing the deficit through the Budget Control Act and we are hopeful Members of Congress recognize that impact while they continue to reach resolution.”

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