As President-elect Obama takes office, he will, of course, reverse the Bush prohibitions on stem cell research. That is the right thing to do, in a country built on freedom.

But then the real fight will begin—about funding. President-Elect Obama pledged to double NIH funding, from $28 billion to $56 billion a year. We must, at minimum, hold him to that promise.

But, because of the economic crisis, some legislators will argue, America “can’t afford” serious funding for stem cell research.

This is exactly backward. We must invest—massively—in regenerative medicine, precisely because of the meltdown.

Let me prove this.

Does anyone disagree that medical costs are a gigantic causative factor in the current economic crisis?

It is just common sense. What is the number one cause of people losing their homes? The inability to pay healthcare costs.

Experts may disagree on the number of bankruptcies caused by inability to pay health care costs (American Association of Retired Persons, AARP, estimates
1.85 million families are affected), but by any estimate, the financials are staggering.

Here are some gigantic numbers.

1. $2.3 trillion direct health care costs in 2007. (1)

2. $2 trillion indirect costs (time lost from work,etc.) minimal estimate (2)

3. Total medical cost: $4.3 trillion.

4. Total federal income taxes for last year: $1.8 trillion.(3)

Round off those figures, for the sake of argument.

Federal income tax– two trillion.

Medical debt—four trillion.

Unless you know a way to subtract four trillion from two trillion, the entire federal income tax receipts could not pay our health care costs.

Think of that. If we gave the military nothing, shut down every federally-funded institution and program, and gave every federal income tax dollar to health care—we could pay less than half of our nation’s medical bills.

Why is it so expensive? People are living longer lives, and not getting well from their diseases and disabilities. Three quarters of all medical costs come from chronic (incurable) diseases and disabilities. (4) Since we cannot cure them, we have no choice but to maintain them in their misery. These are our loved ones; we must do right by them.

But– if we cure just one disease, we lower health care costs by many billions. When the vaccine for polio was found (through very controversial research, strenuously opposed by conservative religion) we saved $30 billion dollars every year, not to mention saving lives, and easing suffering. Not only did we save that money, but we also gained move, because people who did not have polio could be productive additions to our society, giving us the benefit of their labors, and contributing to our tax revenues, instead of taking. Cure made them a financial asset, not an expense—and saved their lives.

Doubling the NIH budget is the least we can do, if we are solve our economic crisis.

So, get ready for the argument, folks. On its successful outcome depends the lives of our loved ones, and the financial wellbeing of our nation.

1. National Coalition on Health Care document: Poisal, J.A., et al, Health Spending Projections Through 2016: Health Affairs, 21 February 2007, w242-253

2. Estimate extrapolated from: Benefits of Research and the Role of NIH, Executive Summary, U.S. Senate Joint Economic Committee, 2000: cited indirect health care costs were substantially higher than direct costs in 1999: $1.3 trillion direct, $1.7 trillion indirect. While I have no reason to suspect this proportion changed since then, I chose a significantly lower figure to err on the side of caution.

3. $1,366, 241, 000,000 personal: $395,536 billion corporation. Source: IRS: Tax Stats at a Glance

4. “Medical care costs of people with chronic diseases account for more than 75% of the nation’s $2 trillion medical care costs (2005 figure-DR)”—Dept. Health and Human Services, Center for Chronic Disease Prevention and Health Promotion.

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