News on the Hill - 2009 (Feb)

Angela Godby, Assistant Vice Chancellor for Federal Relations for the University of Texas System.

NIH Set To Receive Funding Boost
After years of stagnant growth, the National Institutes of Health (NIH) could see additional funding in 2009. One of the first actions of the new 111th Congress has been work on a so-called economic stimulus package to jump-start the economy. The stimulus plan encompasses a wide variety of funding from Medicaid funding to education infrastructure grants to transportation infrastructure grants. As of press time, congressional leaders are considering a stimulus package which includes at least an additional $3.5 billion in NIH funding. The majority of the proposed NIH funding, $2 billion, will be used to fund more research grant applications. Currently, NIH is able to fund less than 20% of all applications received. This has stymied biomedical research into skin diseases including ichthyosis. Moreover, it has threatened the pipeline of new scientists and doctors interested in the field of biomedical research. Late last year, FIRST joined nearly 200 patient groups, scientific societies, research organizations and companies in a letter to President Obama calling for at least $1.2 billion in additional funding in the stimulus package. The groups also called on the President to appoint a permanent NIH director "who understands the complexity and breadth of NIH's mission and who can help deploy scientific research investments wisely for maximum economic and health benefit."

Slow Start for Obama Administration's Health Agenda
During his campaign, President Obama set universal healthcare reform as a key priority for his administration. Current events appear to have sidetracked that priority, however. In November, President Obama nominated former Senator Tom Daschle as Secretary of Health and Human Services (HHS) and named him the Director of a new White House Office on Health Care Reform. After the revelation of tax payment problems, Senator Daschle withdrew his name from consideration for the post. As of press time, President Obama has not yet named another nominee. Daschle's departure coupled with early legislative victories, including reauthorization of the Children's Health Insurance Program, have temporarily slid universal health reform further down the priority list. House and Senate committees will be developing health reform measures over the coming year. President Obama's health agenda includes efforts to increase access to quality, affordable health care as well as strengthen the NIH and invest in critical biomedical research. Other key HHS openings at the National Institutes of Health and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention remain open as of press time. NIH Director Elias Zerhouni departed the NIH in October. A leading candidate for the job is Dr. Francis Collins, former Director of the National Human Genome Research Institute at NIH and leader of NIH's effort to map the entire human genome.


News on the Hill keeps members current with the legislation in Washington, DC. This column is written by Angela Godby, affected with lamellar/CIE.



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