I recently signed an online petition pleading for Congress to spare funding for medical research. Unfortunately for me, I'm represented in the United States Senate by Rand Paul. I just received the following e-mail, dated today (26 April 2011):
Dear Mr. McClain,
Thank you for taking the time to contact me regarding funding for the National Institutes of Health (NIH). I appreciate hearing your thoughts on this issue.
As a subgroup of the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), NIH is the focal point for federal biological and behavioral health research. As a doctor, I care about medical research and know from experience the best way to improve care is for the government to step away from the problem and allow for private investment to flourish. The size of the national debt has grown considerably over the past few years. We have seen currencies and countries fall under their unsustainable debt.
In order to get our fiscal house in order and prevent potential catastrophe in this country, everyone will have to be willing to make sacrifices in sacred programs. All areas of the budget should be on the table for consideration, and while I am not willing to compromise on whether or not cuts should be made, I am willing to compromise on which cuts should be made.
It is time for our nation to address its fiscal problems, and it is the duty of lawmakers to introduce responsible legislation that will rein in spending. Just as American households must balance their checkbooks, the federal government should do the same. Rest assured as this issue continues to be debated in the Senate, I will keep your thoughts in mind.
Rand Paul, MD
United States Senator
This came as no surprise, of course, but I do want to address two of the Senator's remarks.
"As a doctor, I care about medical research and know from experience the best way to improve care is for the government to step away from the problem and allow for private investment to flourish."
Firstly, I'm a patient and I guarantee you I care even more about improving my care than any doctor I've ever had. That's not meant to be a knock on physicians, either. I've had several who were compassionate and appeared to genuinely be concerned with my well-being. Empathy is important, for many reasons, but it cannot compensate for not being the one suffering.
Secondly, Senator Paul continues to worship at the altar of the free market and he should know better. Breakthroughs don't happen daily. They take years of highly skilled, dedicated people using elaborate, highly expensive equipment to find the tiniest new revelation, which can then take years to be fully understood. Shareholders live and die by quarterly statements, and aren't convinced that such longterm research developments are "good business." This is why the moment their scientists devise anything, they want to fast track it to production. The Federal Drug Administration under President George W. Bush complied and became little more than a formality, and in consequence, we've seen countless drugs recalled because they were pushed onto the market before they were fully understood in an effort to make as quick a turnaround on the investment as possible. Patience is mandatory for something like medical research, and unfortunately the investment world is rarely able to understand that it may not make a fortune off treating illnesses today or even tomorrow. Government has a clear responsibility to promote the well-being of our people, and there is clearly a proper role for it to play in medical research. To act as though government spending is some kind of hindrance to private companies curing all disease is ludicrous.
Lastly, as millions of Americans can attest, if you have a health condition that isn't widespread and doesn't have countless celebrities raising awareness (and funds) for it, the "free market" declares there's not enough "demand" for the product/service to justify producing a supply. Lance Armstrong will personally see to it that every human being he ever meets is made to feel enough guilt they donate their life savings to cancer research, but who's out there for me? David Garrard, who made it seem like I just needed to take some meds and then I, too, could be playing pro ball?
Simply put, there is no free market-based answer to the issue of medical research. We Crohnies may not be a large enough group that a business decides it's profitable to invest in finding a cure for us, but that doesn't mean we don't still need one. In fact, evidence already suggests that shunning us altogether is in the interest of businesses, as we make costly--and unreliable--employees (remember the findings published in the Journal of Occupational and Environmental Medicine from 2009?). In short, we're a group that the free market doesn't want as laborers, nor are we a desirable customer to be wooed. Leave us solely at the mercy of the free market, and we will surely never see any further progress on our behalf.
The second statement I wish to address is:
"In order to get our fiscal house in order and prevent potential catastrophe in this country, everyone will have to be willing to make sacrifices in sacred programs."
The implication here is that I'm a selfish narcissistic bastard for pleading that funding for medical research not be scrapped. I wonder, if Senator Paul is serious about "getting our fiscal house in order" as he says, whether the tax cuts he's in love with are on the table. Or subsidies to Big Oil. I suspect not. Those, after all, are so sacred that we dare not sacrifice those. I mean, asking those who are obscenely well-off to pay slightly higher taxes than the lowest tax rate America since World War II would be criminal, and asking Big Oil to fend for itself in the free market would be government overreach. Or something. I don't know.