For years we have been urging federal funding increases in biomedical research by citing the countdown to the first wave of Baby Boomers turning age 65 and joining the Medicare rolls.
That countdown is now measured in days – and in single digits! Exactly one second after midnight this December 31, Kathleen Casey-Kirschling of Cherry Hill, NJ, will officially turn 65 years of age. Before New Year’s Day is over, Katie will be joined by thousands of other post-WW II Baby Boomers also turning 65. 2011 is the first year that the U.S. goes from producing some 6,000 new seniors every day to 10,000 Americans turning 65 – each and every day for the next 18 years! America’s core economic and social stability this century depends on scientists and medical researchers harnessing the means to confront a wave of chronic diseases – heart attacks and stroke, cancer, diabetes, Alzheimer’s disease: a veritable Silver Tsunami of degenerative diseases and disabilities. This is the worst possible time to put medical researchers on a starvation diet by choking off the funding pipeline of the National Institutes of Health. Scientists we count on for our aging population are staring at a bare pantry this winter. In December Congress voted down an omnibus appropriations bill including $750 million in needed funds for the NIH. A venture fund to spur new medical treatments called the Cures Acceleration Network also went down. All federal spending, including for medical research, will be frozen in place, at least until March 4, 2011. Many Republican Members in the House and some of the newly elected are eager to cut even deeper at that time. It is hard to imagine that Americans last November were voting to hobble research progress against Alzheimer’s, cancer and chronic diseases of aging. But that will happen if Congress orders our best scientists and medical innovators to the soup line.