As we draw closer to the election of ’08, the “election of change,” it is prudent of us to remember the other side of health care: biomedical research.

For more than four decades, the National Institutes of Health has been the foundation for biomedical research in the U.S. With a budget of nearly $30 billion, NIH has consistently provided more than 50,000 competitive grants. NIH is also a very efficient federally run institution, with almost 70 percent of the budget going directly to research. As opposed to the other recipients of our tax dollars, biomedical research arguably yields the most important asset to every American – an improved quality of life.

Access to health care has clearly been a crucial topic since Iowa and forced candidates to produce a system that would solve the health care crisis for the long term. Americans want a solution, not just another temporary fix like Social Security.

The candidates have responded by building hybrid plans in hopes of catering to the need of the country. Senator John McCain and Governor Sarah Palin’s health care plan focuses on the concept of putting more control in the patient’s hand. The belief is that individuals know what is best for them, and by allowing them to choose what they need, health care costs will go down overall.

eanwhile, Senator Barack Obama and Senator Joe Biden aim to keep much of the current infrastructure in place while reforming the system. Their particular solution mimics a universal health care insurance plan backed by federal funding. The plan will require every insurance company to provide service to every American, regardless of pre-existing conditions. The plan also calls for a decrease in health care costs by $2,500 for most Americans.

cCain and Obama also realize the need to create competition between insurance companies by protecting newer and smaller companies from monopoly. Overall, each health care plan seems to offer reasonable solutions to the problem, but both distinctly lack a feature that would convert a plan to the long term.

No health care plan can survive without including a section about the long-term benefits of prevention. With only $28 billion from NIH split into 50,000 grants, it is obvious that the funding has been rationed exceptionally well. Over the past 70 years, NIH has displayed an impressive record of accomplishment for prevention. Whereas a man suffering from a heart attack would have died instantly 50 years ago, doctors can now target the cause of heart attacks and take measures to prevent them, thanks to research from NIH. Diseases that have gained wider margins for prevention include diabetes, cancer and HIV/AIDS – in each, prevention makes all the difference between a healthy and poor lifestyle.

Advances in biomedical research allow doctors to target those who are more likely to develop diabetes – NIH has an entire sectional fund dedicated to the research of Type I diabetes – and offer alternative habits that would promote a healthier lifestyle and ultimately a higher quality of life. The unseen hand of genetics plays a role in every human. We cannot ignore its influence just as we cannot wish away our ignorance of it. Research is crucial in understanding genetic influences for an individual’s predisposition to cancer, heart attacks and even Alzheimer’s.

Our limited understanding of many diseases only proves that $28 billion each year is an unacceptable amount to spend on research. On average, the $28 billion would mean roughly $560,000 a year is spent per project. Institutions will often take up to fifty percent of each grant on top of the fee for using the lab facilities. So, $280,000 a year has to be enough to support the lab equipment, materials, part of the researcher’s salary and even assistants for the lab itself. Some researchers are able to thrive in such poor environments thanks to private grants, but many others are finding themselves surviving on charity alone.

If research from NIH has brought about such staggering change over the past fifty years, why do we give it so little attention? I recommend supporters of both parties to remember the other side of health care and point out the small portion of the budget pie labeled “The National Institutes of Health.” If they do, maybe a disease that most certainly leads to death today may very well be a preventable illness fifty years from now.

Yuse Lajiminmuhip is a junior in the School of Nursing and Health Studies.

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