Tuesday, November 20, 2007

Oh that bad, bad, big federal government, being all responsible for much of the medical research and breakthroughs that has extended our survival rate:
The single biggest source of medical research funding, not just in the United States but in the entire world, is the National Institutes of Health (NIH): Last year, it spent more than $28 billion on research, accounting for about one-third of the total dollars spent on medical research and development in this country (and half the money spent at universities). The majority of that money pays for the kind of basic research that might someday unlock cures for killer diseases like Alzheimer's, aids, and cancer. No other country has an institution that matches the NIH in scale. And that is probably the primary explanation for why so many of the intellectual breakthroughs in medical science happen here.
Yes, the fact is the cutting-edge, innovative medical research that Republicans and the like believe is occurring primarily by private health care companies is instead being funded publicly, by our government. What the private companies do is to borrow or take from NIH's voluminous research output and look to create drugs or procedures for profit. But again, a majority of the breakthroughs that we can be thankful for did not happen in a Merck or Pfizer lab, but rather was first made possible via government-sponsored research. We taxpayers help pay for the research that serves as the fuel for private health care company profits. (And recall that pharma firms often bemoan that the exorbitant price on drugs is due in large part to recover research costs.... Uh, not exactly true, and a good deal of the costs = marketing, not research).

It's too bad the current administration chooses to cut back on NIH's budget in favor of things like tax cuts for the rich:
There's no reason why this has to change under universal health insurance. NIH has its own independent funding stream. And, during the late 1990s, thanks to bipartisan agreement between President Clinton and the Republican Congress, its funding actually increased substantially--giving a tremendous boost to research. With or without universal coverage, subsequent presidents and Congress could ramp up funding again--although, if they did so, they would be breaking with the present course. It so happens that, starting in 2003, President Bush and his congressional allies let NIH funding stagnate, even though the cost of medical research (like the cost of medicine overall) was increasing faster than inflation. The reason? They needed room in the budget for other priorities, like tax cuts for the wealthy. In this sense, the greatest threat to future medical breakthroughs may not be universal health care but the people who are trying so hard to fight it.
So Bush et al will continue to scare the public about universal health care, much of it based on lies and distortions, and meanwhile they'll slash funding for what has been the engine of health care breakthroughs over the last few decades. Give some extra cash to a select few now and sacrifice medical progress that could benefit many down the road. Yeah, that sounds about ass-backwards right for this cabal of nitwits.

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