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Saturday, October 1, 2016

June 10 (Bloomberg) — Many Republicans, and Democrats, never thought the automatic across-the-board spending cuts known as sequestration would take effect. After all, they might produce dangerous, if unintended, consequences such as potentially bankrupting the U.S. health-care system, along with millions of families.

Typical Washington hyperbole, right? It actually is happening under sequestration, which kicked in three months ago, a product of America’s political dysfunction.

Because the cuts only affect the margins of a wide array of defense and domestic discretionary programs, there mostly hasn’t been an immediate pinch; the public backlash has been minimal. The long-term consequences, in more than a few cases, are ominous.

There’s no better case study than Alzheimer’s disease. With the sequestration-enforced cuts at the National Institutes of Health, research to find a cure or better treatment is slowing.

Alzheimer’s, the most common form of dementia, is the sixth leading cause of death in the U.S. Five million Americans are afflicted with the disease. It costs about $200 billion a year, creating a severe strain for public health care and many families. Then there’s the emotional toll: The Alzheimer’s Association estimates that caregivers had an additional $9 billion of health-care costs last year.

“As the population lives longer, Alzheimer’s is the defining disease of this generation,” says Senator Susan Collins, a Maine Republican, who’s trying to fight the sequestration restraints and sharply increase spending for research.

The latest annual report on health statistics from the Centers for Disease Control underscores her point. There’s been a lot of progress, in large part because of earlier NIH efforts: The number of deaths from strokes and heart disease is down more than 30 percent over the past decade, and cancer deaths have declined almost 15 percent. The reverse has occurred with Alzheimer’s. Over a decade, deaths have risen sharply, up 38 percent for males and 41 percent for women.

It’s expected to get worse. A report this spring by the nonpartisan Rand Corp. estimates that by 2040, the number of Americans afflicted will have doubled, as will the costs. Other experts say that as grave as those projections are, they may be underestimated. The Alzheimer’s Association says that under current trends the cost will exceed $1 trillion annually by 2050. That either would bankrupt Medicare and Medicaid or force huge tax increases.

Much critical health research in the U.S. generally emanates from the NIH, which has compiled a record of success with many diseases that has been the envy of the world.

The NIH’s funding is cut by 5 percent, or $1.55 billion this year, across the board. That means 700 fewer research grants are approved and 750 fewer patients will be admitted to its clinical center. The longer the automatic cuts go on, the worse it will get; medical breakthroughs rarely are instantaneous. They take years and build on previous studies and experiments.

Alzheimer’s research, pre-sequestration, was slated for a healthy increase this year. By moving a few discretionary funds, the NIH has avoided cutbacks.

Still, the funding falls dramatically short of the promise.

  • Dominick Vila

    Let’s forget the sequester for a moment, if nothing else because it is a symptom or the result of a larger problem. Our real problem is the conviction held by many fellow Americans who are convinced that the way forward is smaller government, repealing ACA, dismantling MEDICARE, privatizing Social Security, and cutting the budgets of most Federal Government agencies down to the bone. These austerity measures, proposed, allegedly, to reduce spending, stop borrowing, and reduce our national debt are driven, mostly, by three reasons: lack of a long term vision, our refusal to pay for what we need, and greed.
    Austerity, including policies like the sequester, impair the ability of the Federal government to pursue long term goals and support existing programs that benefit most of our population. This ranges from modernizing or, at least, repairing our antiquated and inefficient infrastructure, to investing in R&D, new technologies, concepts, and education. In a few words: long term national disaster.
    Our deficits are not caused by the fact that we are spending too much, although there is no question that greater efficiency could be achieved and should be pursued, but by the fact that we don’t want to pay for the very things that keep us safe and that we need to meet the challenges that lie ahead. Most of us support a strong military, the best intelligence and law enforcement agencies that money can buy, the best air traffic control system in the world, we love our highways, we want out children to get the best education possible, we want institutions like the Center for Disease Control to find new vaccines or medical procedures to keep us healthy, when disaster strikes we expect the government to intervene immediately and effectively, and the list goes on. Unfortunately, the expectations of the “plastic” generation are inconsistent with their willingness to fund the programs we need to achieve our goals.
    To explain this inconsistency we use socio-economic pretexts such as “conservatism” and “liberalism” to hide what we should be obvious to everyone: social irresponsibility.

    • ram1020

      The problem with the reduction in government spending is not the spending cuts themselves, but where the administration chooses to apply them. This is the problem when EVERYTHING has to be political! I am sure there are administrative cuts that can be made that will not impact the quality of key services.

      The article focuses on Alzheimer research, which is something that needs to be done, but should and could be paid for by those who receive the most financial gain from the results (Pharmaceutical Companies). I recently attended a session in DC where Oak Ridge, UT, and Battelle presented information on a program that uses government funding to work with Dow and Ford to develop cheaper carbon fibers. While this is a worthwhile effort that will lead to stronger and lighter composites, research on how to make these using Dow materials for use in Ford products should be funded totally by Dow and Ford, the financial beneficiaries of this new technology.
      So as we look at the government spending cuts, we should not just agonize about the end of White House tours and reduction in Air Traffic Control. We should challenge the government to find areas, such as corporate welfare, that could reduce spending without punishing the public.

      • TZToronto

        One problem is that each member of Congress has a special project that he or she considers essential to re-election. So the very voices that scream the loudest for budget cuts overall are the same voices that demand no cuts in their states or districts. So while so many want major cuts in spending, they all want to cuts to happen in someone else’s neighborhood.

      • DemInExile

        I sort of agree with you, but sort of don’t.

        First, even though the NIH is in the executive branch, members of congress exert an enormous amount of control over what types of research get funded or not (at a gross level). Same for the NSF, same for the Dept. of Defense, same for the Dept. of Energy.

        Second, many of the areas of research that are funded by the government, but end up being beneficial to industry are areas no company would ever invest their money in.

        Basic research, which has no immediate or even mid-term payoff, and suffers from extraordinarily high failure rates, is simply not something companies do. Our innovative companies may be innovative in terms of ideas (Google), but CEO’s will not gamble billions of dollars on projects that, even if they do buck the odds and produce dividends, will not be realized for 15+ years.

        There certainly is corporate welfare that should be eliminated (tax breaks for incredibly profitable oil companies is one politically charged suggestion), but my guess is that if the federal government wasn’t helping Ford and Dow with this fiber research, it simply would not happen.

        The same is true of biomedical research. Every new drug out there owes its existence at some point to basic government funded research that had no direct medical application 10 or 30 years ago. Of course, that is one of the reasons it burns me to see big pharma turn around and charge US patients an arm and a leg and act as if they funded the entire thing. But that’s another issue.

    • idamag

      Austerity does not work. Greece proved it.

  • riverdriver

    Based on the personal inconvenience they experienced caused by the cuts that adversely affected the airline schedules,it would appear that our best hope for restoring the funding for this vital research is an epidemic of Alzheimer’s within congress, especially to those Republicans who support the sequester.

    • Jim Myers

      Considering the age of the most powerful members of Congress, it looks like your fantasy may actually unfold into reality.

      • Sand_Cat

        You mean it hasn’t already?

        • Jim Myers

          Touche.

  • rustacus21

    Lest we 4get, it was Reagan that dismantled the Mental Health functions of the national health care system, which impacted him, by slowing research advancements on diseases & cures for, say, cancer, diabetes & YES, Alzheimer’s!!! Too bad b/c, like here in MI, the stupidity of Republicans is manifest in their current conclusion that term limits are, in fact, a bad deal for the public, as experienced legislators are ejected from the political system just when they’re getting the requisite experience to do the job. Same thing here & American voters haven’t still gotten the clue that they must 1stly, elect intelligent, Liberal/Progressive legislators & 2nd, understand that the Constitution is Liberal/Progressive. Otherwise, voters will continue sending clowns like those mentioned in this article to preside over issues they don’t understand nor care about, critical to the solvency of our Democracy…

    • Jim Myers

      Maybe I am the only one who remembers, but when Ronald Reagan was running for the Presidency the first time, he made it a point that the National Debt was One Trillion Dollars. He went on to complain that a Trillion Dollar National Debt was disgraceful. The debt MUST be reduced or eliminated.

      After eight years in office, the National Debt was Three Trillion Dollars. Obviously, the Great Communicator spoke with a forked tongue.

      That tradition carries on within the GOP to this day. SPEND BABY, SPEND!!!

      Until there is a Democrat in the White House. Then blame the Democrats for the National Debt, and demand austerity.

      And the cycle continues.

      There was a time when the Democrats were ridiculed as the “TAX AND SPEND” party. And, to a large part, that was, and still is, true.

      HOWEVER, the GOP was, and always will be the party of “BORROW AND SPEND”.

      The only difference now is that the GOP refuses to raise taxes, forcing both the Democrats and the Republicans into the “BORROW AND SPEND” mode.

      And the poor slobs who have to work for a living pay the price.

  • RodgerMitchell

    It’s not just sequestration that is folly. Deficit cutting (aka “austerity”) of all kinds is folly. See: “You never will know what you have lost” at http://mythfighter.com/2012/10/27/you-never-will-know-what-you-have-lost-iv/