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NAEVR Endorses Senate and House Bills to Ensure Sustained Funding for Biomedical Research

Legislative Update
April 23, 2014

In April 18 and 23 letters, respectively, NAEVR endorsed S. 2115 American Cures Act and H.R. 4384 American HEALS Act, which would ensure at least a five percent increase each year for federal government agencies engaged in biomedical research—National Institutes of Health (NIH), Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the Department of Defense (DOD) Health Programs, and the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) Medical and Prosthetics Program—all of which have vision research programs. S. 2115 was introduced by Senator Richard Durbin (D-IL), a member of the Senate Labor, Health and Human Services and Education (LHHS) Appropriations Subcommittee and Chair of the Senate Defense Appropriations Subcommittee with nine Democratic co-sponsors. H.R. 4384 was introduced by Congresswoman Anna Eshoo (D-CA), a member of the House Energy and Commerce Committee, with six Democratic co-sponsors.

In its letters, NAEVR emphasized that the National Eye Institute (NEI) within the NIH had lost 25 percent of its purchasing power since Fiscal Year (FY) 2003, which has jeopardized the science and reduced the number of young investigators pursuing a career in vision research-where the United States has been a leader. NAEVR specifically cited as transformative research the NEI’s primary “Audacious Goal” of Regenerating Neurons and Neuronal Connections in the Eye and Visual System, which requires adequate funding.

The issue of predictable and sustained funding for the nation’s biomedical research enterprise was the subject of discussion at the March 26 and April 2 hearings of the respective House and Senate LHHS Appropriations Subcommittees, at which NIH Director Francis Collins, M.D., Ph.D. testified. He displayed a new graphic demonstrating that, if NIH funding had continued on the trajectory prior to the doubling of 3.7 percent annual growth, its funding would now be at a level $10 billion greater than it is now. “Although we thank Congress for the NIH doubling, the combination of flat budgets and lack of an inflationary increase since FY2003 has resulted in a deficit from the past trajectory.” When asked by Senator Durbin whether “Manhattan Project-type” funding or sustained growth was preferable, Dr. Collins responded that, “Nothing is worse for biomedical research than uncertainty. NIH needs a stable trajectory of inflationary increases and growth.” Senator Durbin noted that his bill would ensure a five percent per-year increase over a cost-of-living inflationary factor for a ten-year period to get NIH back on track. “As we short-change the NIH, we add to the cost burden of our other health programs,” he concluded.

Although various bills to support NIH increases, specifically, or biomedical research across federal agencies, generally, have been introduced in the past, they have usually had a “poison pill” effect—that is, funding coming at the price of a program strongly supported across the aisle. The advocacy community is rallying around the Durbin and Eshoo bills since they advance the ongoing dialogue about the need for sustained funding for biomedical innovation.