September 19, 2019

Investing in Americans' Health at the NIH


KEY TAKEAWAYS

  • Republicans have led a bipartisan congressional effort to make substantial investments in the National Institutes of Health to address the most expensive and life-threatening diseases.
  • These investments can help relieve human suffering and potentially reduce future health care costs.
  • The NIH will continue to play a key role in modernizing the health care system and customizing the treatments patients receive. 

The National Institutes of Health is the government’s primary agency for biomedical and public health research. The NIH champions research on the causes and treatments for common diseases and for rare conditions that would struggle to attract research funding otherwise.

Health Care

The NIH consists of 27 institutes and centers that focus on specific diseases and research in public health. It is the largest public funder of biomedical research in the world. The majority of the organization’s budget – more than 80% – is directed toward extramural research through grants to universities and other organizations. A portion of the NIH budget allows for intramural research projects to be carried out by the institutes. The funding NIH receives not only supports research, but also has an economic impact, providing jobs and benefiting every state.

Congress funds the agency annually through the Labor-HHS-Education appropriations bill and provides additional funding as authorized by the Public Health Service Act. After a decade of stagnant funding, the NIH had lost more than 20% of its purchasing power by 2015. A Republican controlled Congress responded by prioritizing some programs, eliminating others that were out of date or ineffective, and increasing total NIH funding. Over the past four appropriations cycles, NIH funding has been increased by 30% to advance research that will lead to medical breakthroughs and could result in lower health care costs in the future. The 21st Century Cures Act also supports the NIH with supplemental funding through 2023.

Valuable investment HIGHLIGHTS

Opioids – According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, “every day, more than 130 people in the United States die after overdosing on opioids.” The NIH is researching and collaborating with the medical industry to find new non-addictive treatments and strategies for chronic pain, as well as interventions for opioid addiction. The NIH has advanced long-acting formulations of treatments such as naltrexone and buprenorphine to better treat, prevent, and reverse opioid abuse and overdoses. It is working with health care systems to implement these strategies.

Additionally, through its Helping to End Addiction Long-term initiative, the NIH is studying prevention and treatment interventions to reduce overdose deaths. NIH Director Francis Collins has said: “By testing a suite of evidence-based interventions, not just in health care, but in schools, among first responders, and in the criminal justice system, the HEALing Communities Study will seek to reduce dramatically the number of overdose deaths in those communities.”

Alzheimer’s disease – An estimated 5.8 million people in America live with Alzheimer’s. Along with other dementias, it is projected to cost the country $290 billion this year. This could rise to $1.1 trillion by 2050, driving federal health costs in the long run. Congress has directed the NIH to prioritize Alzheimer’s research and develop new therapies. Research like the BRAIN Initiative to better understand the brain’s function will help address dementia. Congress has allocated funding specifically for Alzheimer’s research and the BRAIN Initiative. Senator Susan Collins noted that these investments “hold great promise for putting an end to this disease that has a devastating effect on millions of Americans and their families.”

Pediatric cancer – The National Cancer Institute at the NIH leads clinical trials to find safe and effective treatments for pediatric cancer patients. According to NCI, cancer “is the leading cause of death by disease past infancy among children in the United States.” The treatments that work for adults may not work for children. So the institute studies potential causes of cancers in younger patients – genetic and environmental – and tries to improve the results of their treatment. Since many childhood cancer survivors have medical problems and secondary cancers later in life, the NIH conducts research to better provide for their long-term needs. 

HIV/AIDS – The Trump administration has set a goal of reducing new HIV infections by 75% in five years and by 90% in 10 years. Through its Centers for AIDs Research program, the NIH is the world’s leading research institute for HIV. The drugs and treatments developed by the NIH have turned a disease that was once a death sentence into one that can be managed by most patients. Funding provided by Congress also supports research to help local groups diagnose, treat, and prevent the disease in their communities.

Influenza – In a typical year, influenza kills 36,000 Americans and hospitalizes more than 200,000. The NIH supports research and clinical trials to develop influenza vaccines and antivirals. In addition, the agency leads studies to ensure the public is prepared for outbreaks and help keep them from spreading out of control. Last year, Congress provided targeted funds for the development of a universal flu vaccine.

Vaccine development – NIH scientists work to develop new chemical compounds. For example, through its research on drug and vaccine development, the NIH is working to address public health crises like the Ebola virus outbreak. The agency is conducting trials on possible treatments, in hopes of combating future outbreaks.

Health Care

Modernizing health care

The NIH’s efforts to improve health and reduce illness and disability can decrease health care costs for patients, families, and the government. The innovative medical studies advanced by the organization to find cures for a broad range of diseases will improve people’s health in the future. Investing in the NIH can help to reduce costs for the American health system overall by reducing the incidences of life-threatening diseases, shortening hospital stays, and lowering the need for invasive surgery. The NIH plays a part in efforts to make health care specific to each patient’s situation, the long-sought goal of more “personalized medicine.” NIH initiatives that allow doctors and researchers to better analyze and predict how patients react to different treatments can improve the quality of care and help people lead healthier lives.

Issue Tag: Health Care