This November the American people will elect a new president. Soon after his or her inauguration, the next president will submit the new administration’s first budget plan to Congress. A president’s first budget is not only an opportunity to lay out funding levels and policies for the next year, but also a chance to outline a vision for the nation’s finances over the next decade. Where will the federal government spend more, where will it spend less? In the context of finite resources, what investments offer the American people the greatest return in terms of security and future prosperity?
Since the presidency of John Adams, the federal government has been involved in halting the spread of disease. And with good reason, medical advances further one of the most basic functions of government: the protection of its citizens. There is a broad and compelling case for increasing the federal government’s investment in medical research, including:
- Moral: Prior medical advances have cured once incurable diseases and saved millions of lives. It is imperative that we build on those successes to treat and cure today’s afflictions.
- Economic: Medical research not only contributes to the economy, but medical advances generate savings in health care and improve overall longevity, adding to economic growth.
- National Security: The ability to confront highly infectious natural diseases and bioterrorism is key to preserving order and advancing America’s national security.
- Global Leadership: Stagnant investment in medical research in the U.S. coupled with growing investments abroad threaten America’s position as the global leader in medical research.
Further, the federal government has a unique and essential role in promoting and supporting basic research.
As Congress and the president complete the fiscal year 2017 budget process and as the next president and Congress prepare their budgets, there are near- and medium-term opportunities to make significant investments in medical research. Policymakers should seize these opportunities, but they should also avoid a repeat of the problems created between 1998 and 2013 when funding for the National Institutes of Health was quickly doubled, then flat-lined, and then reduced. The lack of sustainable, predictable funding has made it difficult to invest in new research and new researchers.
It is crucial that new investments in medical research be accompanied by reforms that reduce waste, and improve the efficiency and rate of return of taxpayers’ funds. Reforms should improve the accountability of senior officials, increase transparency, break down the silos that dominate much of the existing research infrastructure, and utilize funding mechanisms that incentive high-risk, high reward research.
This white paper, which explores these issues and policies, is divided into three sections: (1) The Case for Investing in Medical Research, (2) Background and Outlook for Federal Investments in Medical Research, and (3) Reforms that Enhance Investments in Medical Research.