U.S. Sen. Bob Casey says he doesn't have an answer to the national need for balance in creating health-care financing solutions, but he knows that National Institutes of Health funding helps put and keep jobs in the Philadelphia region.
"I focus on NIH funding for a couple reasons," Casey said in a meeting with Inquirer editors and reporters. "No. 1 is because this region of the country has made great progress, but also there is no region more at risk than Southeastern Pennsylvania because of the dollars the state gets."
A Democrat from Scranton, Casey said at the Friday meeting that unlike most topics dividing Congress, funding for medical science has a "bipartisan consensus, less so on financial levels, but we're not as far apart as we are on other issues."
Pennsylvania got about $1.46 billion in NIH funding in 2012. That was fourth highest among the states. Pennsylvania's First and Second Congressional Districts - where much research in the life sciences is done at the University of Pennsylvania and Temple University, among other institutions - got 1,854 of the 3,369 grants that went to Pennsylvania, worth about $806 million of the state's total, according to the NIH.
Medical and pharmaceutical research often takes decades to produce results. Given that fact - and critics say it should not take so long - is there logic in funding on a five-year cycle, as Congress does with farm bills?
"That is something we should consider, having a longer duration to have some predictability," Casey said. "We haven't done this very well. Even with the long list of tax strategies or tax credits for clean energy, folks say, 'Thanks for the tax credit, but it's only for one year.' That is also true for medical research."
Life-sciences research is a "big jobs issue, and they are high-paying jobs," he noted. Such jobs are often with academic and nonprofit organizations with highly paid executives, as well as for-profit health-care companies. Besides front-end funding, those organizations rely on government insurance programs such as Medicare to pay at the back end.
Can Americans have it both ways financially?
"I don't think we're close to finding that kind of balance," Casey said. "We also have to be open to some ideas. I have heard Republicans say they want some reforms. They have questions about research grants and what happens. There is room for debate about where the money goes . . . or the effectiveness of the investment. But if you listen to people like [NIH Director] Francis Collins . . . we have so much potential but yet that potential is restrained or held back by these funding issues."