by Tanner Godfrey
The Senate Subcommittee on Labor, Health and Human Services, Education, and Related Agencies met to discuss the 2018 budget recommendations and to question Secretary of Health and Human Services Tom Price. The President’s FY2018 budget proposes deep cuts to the National Institutes of Health (NIH), the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), Medicare and Medicaid. Senator Roy Blunt of Missouri, who chaired the session, opened by stating that he is committed to not cutting the NIH budget and won’t draft a bill for that cut. Price defended the President’s budget, stating that this was an effort to focus spending on programs that work.
Senator Richard Durbin of Illinois responded by asking, “Do I take it from that that you and the President have concluded that our medical research programs at the NIH have failed the American people?”
Secretary Price attempted to explain that they plan to fund the same number of grants and dollar amount per grant by cutting indirect costs, also called facilities & administration costs, or F&A for short.
This approach, however, also is threatening to scientific research. When a grant is awarded, 67-75% of the grant goes directly to the researcher for the cost of the research (supplies, equipment, salaries, students, etc.). The remaining amount goes to cover the research infrastructure and operating costs (laboratories, waste disposal, patient and animal safety, maintenance, administrative staff, etc.)
A statement from the Association of American Universities on indirect costs said:
Cuts to F&A research costs are cuts to research. If such cuts are made, they will reduce the amount of research universities and their scientists can conduct on behalf of the federal government to achieve key national goals to improve the health and welfare of the American people, grow the economy, and enhance our national security.
Furthermore, according to the congressional justification, NIH predicts with this proposed budget the grant success rate will drop to 13.7%, 1,648 fewer grants will be awarded, and less money will awarded with each grant as well.
The senators present were overwhelmingly supportive of NIH and appeared to be very reluctant to proceed with the President’s budget request. Senator Durbin emphasized, “This chairman along with the ranking member, and I might add Senator [Lamar] Alexander to this combination, have really staked out a grounds in the last two fiscal years that I think is the right path for America. 5% real growth in medical research funding across America, I am ready to debate that in any district, in any state in America; that is money well spent!”