Published in the Woonsocket Call on August 26, 2018
Last Wednesday evening, the US Senate overcame political gridlock by passing a 2019 fiscal “Minibus” spending bill that allocates funding for the Department of Defense; and Labor, Health and Human Services, Education, and Related Agencies (accounting for 65 percent of all discretionary spending). Within the Health and Human Services appropriation, the National Institutes of Health’s budget increased by $2 billion to $39.1 billion, a 5.4 percent increase over the agency’s current funding level.
The Labor, Health & Human Services, Education and Related Agencies Appropriations bill passed on Augusts 23 by a broad bipartisan vote of 85 to 7, the spending bill combining the Senate Appropriations Committee-passed FY 2019 Labor-HHS spending bill (S. 3158) with the text of the Senate committee-passed Defense spending bill (S. 3159). The Senate-passed appropriations bill, with both Rhode Island Senators supporting, adds an additional $425 million for Alzheimer’s research at the National Institutes of Health (NIH) for a total of $2.3 billion. The increases in Alzheimer’s funding surpasses the $2 billion research goal of the National Plan to Address Alzheimer’s Disease. If signed into law, this would mark the fourth consecutive year of historic action by the U.S. Congress to address the growing Alzheimer’s epidemic through funding research.
As to other NIH health initiatives, the 2019 fiscal spending bill also allocated $429.4 million for the BRAIN initiative to map the human brain, (a $29 million increase), and $376 million for the All of Us precision medicine study, this was $86 million more than in FY 2018.
The Senate Labor, Health and Services, and Education appropriations subcommittee first recommended the Alzheimer’s funding increases in June, with the full Senate appropriations committee later giving its support.
Bipartisan Support for Combating Alzheimer’s Disease
Ahead of the Senate floor vote, U.S. Senator Roy Blunt (Mo.), chairman of the Appropriations Subcommittee on Labor-HHS, called for increased federal dollars to invest in research to find a prevention and cure for Alzheimer’s disease. “Treating those with Alzheimer’s costs taxpayers $21 million every hour and, without a treatment or cure, will top $1.1 trillion by 2050 – about twice as much as the annual defense budget,” the Senator calculated.
Blunt warned his Senate colleagues that the nation must get serious with confronting the Alzheimer’s epidemic and finding a cure through research. The Senator stated: “Every hour, Alzheimer’s disease costs taxpayers at least $21 million. Every single hour. Someone in the United States is developing Alzheimer’s every 65 seconds,” noting that $277 billion in tax dollars are spent a year on Alzheimer’s and dementia-related care. It’s hard to talk about this without giving numbers, but numbers are not the most riveting thing, particularly when you talk about millions, or billions, or even trillions.
“What does that really mean? That really means that we’re spending basically an amount equal to half of the defense budget on Alzheimer’s and dementia-related care. Just the overwhelming impact of that, if we don’t do something differently than we’re doing right now, just because of the projected long life and demographics of the country, in 2050, which is 32 years from now, we’ll be spending, in today’s dollars, $1.1 trillion on Alzheimer’s and dementia care. $ 1.1 trillion… That’s twice the defense budget of last year, twice the defense budget. …,” says Blunt
“If we could just delay onset of Alzheimer’s, if we could figure out how to come up with something that would slow down the onset of that disease. If we could delay onset by an average of five years, we’d cut that $1.1 trillion by 42 percent, almost in half. If we could have the average person that gets Alzheimer’s, get it five years later than they are getting Alzheimer’s today, almost half, 42 percent of that $1.1 trillion would go away,” said Blunt.
Greater Investment in Alzheimer’s Funding Still Needed
With the Senate appropriations bill pumping more federal dollars into Alzheimer’s research, UsAgainstAlzheimer’s Chairman George Vradenburg issued a statement
saying: “We believe that Alzheimer’s is the second inconvenient truth of the 21st century. Alzheimer’s is the century’s most fearsome — and inevitable — health and social economic threat to the baby boom and future generations, including, in particular, to women and communities of color. Even with this strong commitment from the Senate, greater investment is still needed if we are to deliver meaningful progress in care and treatment to the six million Americans, 50 million globally, living with this disease and their more than 16 million caregivers. In addition to supporting research, we must elevate brain health as an important part of the path to a cure through regular primary care physician assessments of cognitive health — and early and accurate diagnosis of the cause of any cognitive impairment. The Concentrating on High-value Alzheimer’s Needs to Get to an End (CHANGE) Act, comprehensive legislation aimed at overcoming barriers to a faster cure for Alzheimer’s disease, does just that and we urge Congress to pass the CHANGE Act immediately.”
The Chicago-based Alzheimer’s Association and the Alzheimer’s Impact Movement (AIM) also applauded the Senate’s 2019 spending bill that puts more money into Alzheimer’s research. “Every 65 seconds someone in the U.S. develops the disease,” said Harry Johns, Alzheimer’s Association and Alzheimer’s Impact Movement (AIM) President and CEO. “But, thanks to increased NIH funding American scientists are now advancing basic disease knowledge, ways to reduce risk, new biomarkers for early diagnosis and drug targeting, and developing the needed treatments to move to clinical testing,” he says.
The Senate appropriations bill now goes to conference negotiations with the House and must be signed into law by President Donald Trump. The 2019 Fiscal Year begins October. 1.