How Sequestration Cuts Could Affect Biomedical Research

Dean Kenneth Polonsky, MD

Dean Kenneth Polonsky, MD

The looming automatic federal budget cuts, or the so-called “sequestration” cuts approved as part of the 2011 congressional deal on raising the debt limit, could have a huge impact on hospitals and biomedical research. Barring a last-minute deal in Congress, starting tomorrow hospitals will face across the board reductions in Medicare payments. Of particular concern to academic medical centers like the University of Chicago Medicine are the cuts in discretionary spending to the National Institutes of Health, which funds a significant amount of basic science and biomedical research.

In today’s Chicago Tribune, Peter Frost spoke with Kenneth Polonsky, MD, Executive Vice President for Medical Affairs and Dean of Division of the Biological Sciences, about how these cuts will affect biomedical research:

About $17 million in annual research funding at the U. of C. is in jeopardy, said the academic health system’s top official, Dr. Kenneth Polonsky. If the cuts remain long term, the university may consider furloughs, freezing open positions and reducing funding to some of its scientists, he said.

The mounting financial pressure “is very, very ugly,” Polonsky said. “The academic medical centers in particular are absolutely frantic.”

Dean Polonsky also wrote an editorial when Congress was debating these same issues back in November (at that time the buzzword was “fiscal cliff”), in which he underscored the importance of funding for scientific research:

Proposed federal spending cuts would slash more than 8 percent from the NIH budget. The negative impact these cuts would have on science cannot be underestimated. Adjusting for the rate of inflation in the medical research sector, the NIH has lost ground over the past 10 years, and the number of project grants has dropped annually since 2004. This all translates to fewer jobs, fewer scientists and physicians choosing medical research as a career, and fewer discoveries that can improve human health.

We have the opportunity to reinvent the largest health care system in the world, to make it more efficient and more responsive to the needs of patients. However, unless we continue to invest in our biomedical research enterprise and to deliver scientific breakthroughs that lead to prevention, diagnosis and treatment of disease, the new health care system will fall short of its full potential and public health will suffer.

About Matt Wood (491 Articles)
Matt Wood is a senior science writer for the University of Chicago Medicine and editor of the Science Life blog.
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