The ongoing federal sequester budget cuts will diminish not only the volume of biomedical research undertaken in the near-term, but also the capacity of the United States to maintain its leadership position in biomedical research for years to come, claims a report released in November by the American Society of Hematology (ASH) and other organizations in the Coalition for Health Funding.1 The Coalition joined the Federation of American Societies for Experimental Biology (FASEB) and others to create Nondefense Discretionary (NDD) United, an umbrella group advocating for an end to the sequester and a restoration of research budgets.
“The price of continuing on this path will be the abdication of US leadership in biomedical research,” warned Margaret Offermann, MD, PhD, FASEB president.
Impacts to cancer research and clinical oncology were already evident in 2013. In May, for example, community oncologists reported referring thousands of older patients to hospitals for chemotherapy services as a result of sequester cuts to Medicare reimbursements.2 The proposed Cancer Patient Protection Act of 2013 (HR 1416) would reverse sequestration cuts to chemotherapy payments; it was introduced in April but remains in committee.
The potential impact to sequestration on oncology are more far-reaching than short-term Medicare cuts, according to the NDD United Faces of Austerity report. For example, current National Institutes of Health (NIH) research budgets have been cut by $1.7 billion under sequestration—representing a loss of 1,300 research grants and more than 460 training grants.2
The Faces of Austerity report does not offer a total figure for cuts to federal cancer research funding across agencies, but it does offer grim anecdotes. For example, the report states Children’s Hospital in Los Angeles lost $1 million in NIH funding for the 2014 fiscal year.2
ASH has issued 29 special bridge grants to sustain blood research projects affected by the NIH budget cuts. However, the bridge program is intended to provide only temporary and limited assistance to researchers. Continued federal funding insecurity is not just disrupting research efforts, said Janis Abkowitz, MD, ASH president—if left unresolved, it will also risk long-term harm to research capacity.
“Continued, devastating cuts to NIH due to sequestration and years of flat funding pose a significant threat to medical research in the United States, forcing researchers to slow or stop their critical work, and even worse, persuading talented investigators to abandon biomedical research as a career path,” explained Dr. Abkowitz, who works at the University of Washington in Seattle.
Like a “slowly growing cancer,” the cumulative effects of sequestration cuts to federal funding could curtail, not just research but research careers, as graduate students leave the field, the report cautioned.
Congress and the White House agreed to a budget deal in October 2013, ending the year’s partial federal government shutdown. Under sequestration, even more severe cuts are due to take effect in early 2014 if Congress doesn’t act—and the 2013 budget agreement “conspicuously failed” to address the ongoing sequestration cuts or federal research budgets for 2014, noted ASH spokeswoman Amanda Szabo.
- NDD United. Faces of austerity: how budget cuts have made us sicker, poorer, and less secure. http://publichealthfunding.org/NDD_report/NDD-report-digital.pdf. Accessed December 17, 2013.
- Furlow B. Cuts to US Medicare disrupt chemotherapy services. Lancet Oncology. 2013;14(6):456.