Date: February 1st, 2013
The country did not go over the "fiscal cliff" thanks to the American Taxpayer Relief Act of 2012 (ATRA), which was passed by Congress on New Year’s Day. While fears loomed that lawmakers would fail to act in time, ATRA addressed the expiration of numerous tax credits, raised some revenue, and temporarily delayed automatic spending cuts scheduled to take effect on December 31, 2012. When ATRA became law America earned a temporary reprieve from imminent economic catastrophe. However, our health and personal economic security may still suffer from the fallout resulting from actions taken by policymakers struggling to find a more permanent solution to the nation’s fiscal woes.
Lines are Being Drawn
The Center for Budget and Policy Priorities recently reported that revenue increases from ATRA, coupled with 2011 spending cuts agreed to by policymakers, will reduce the deficit by more than $2 trillion in the next decade. While this seems like an impressive sum, it will not be enough to stabilize the country’s debt. To reach that goal, Congress and the White House will need to find an additional $1.2 trillion.
On one side congressional Republican leaders have indicated that since the passage of ATRA they would not raise a dollar more in taxes for deficit reduction. If lawmakers follow this approach, all further reductions made to stabilize the debt would have to come from additional discretionary spending cuts on priorities like research funding at the National Institutes of Health (NIH) and entitlement programs like Medicare.
On the other side during debates leading up to the passage of ATRA, President Obama began signaling support for a balanced deficit reduction plan that includes both spending cuts and new revenue on higher-income Americans. Democratic Congressional leaders have also taken the position of spreading out the pain by not relying on spending cuts alone. In communications after the passage of ATRA, senior Democrats stated that without increased taxes, the ratio of spending cuts to revenue would be 4:1, where 80% of the savings obtained would be from programs that benefit the majority of Americans.
Mitigating Potential Damage
The number of people age 65 and older will more than double by 2050 to 88.5 million. Those 85 and older will increase three-fold. As the population ages the prevalence of diseases like Alzheimer’s disease, cancer, heart disease, stroke, arthritis, and diabetes is expected to increase.
Chronic diseases are costing the U.S. more than $1 trillion per year. These costs will rise to $6 trillion by the middle of this century. Such costs are not only incurred by the government, but also increasingly by individuals and their families. A 2012 AARP report found that Medicare beneficiaries spent a median of $3,138 a year of their own money on health care, and that 10% of beneficiaries spent more than twice that per year. This does not account for the countless hours of uncompensated care millions of Americans provide to loved ones struggling with debilitating diseases of aging. Our best hope for providing long-term relief is to find better means of preempting, treating, and preventing age-related diseases.
There is no doubt that we face tough choices ahead as a nation, but if the $1.2 trillion in savings to stabilize the debt comes from spending cuts alone, great sacrifices would need to be made in medical research at a time when we need to invest in this area. Policymakers must be continually reminded that investment in research is necessary for our society to remain healthy and economically viable.
Now is the time to reach out to your member of Congress and senators to let them know that you believe protecting NIH research funding is critical to the nation. NIH-funded research leads to interventions that promote health and can help reduce the burden of disease in the future. It must be viewed as a powerful weapon to combat the enormous challenges presented by our changing demographics, not a war chest to be raided!