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Make It a Double

Newt Gingrich, the Republican speaker of the US House of Representatives in the mid-to-late 1990s, calls for a doubling of the National Institutes of Health budget in a New York Times op-ed. Gingrich says such a move makes sense for both "our fiscal health and our personal health."

In the late 1990s through the early 2000s, the NIH budget underwent such a doubling, but since then it has, in effect, been reduced by some 20 percent, Gingrich writes. And that has led to a 12.5 percent decrease in the number of grants the agency has awarded.

The US spends more than $1 trillion a year on healthcare through Medicare and Medicaid in addition to what it spends through Veterans Affairs, the Children's Health Insurance Program and Indian Health Service programs, and, Gingrich adds, that amount is only expected to grow, even as the NIH budget falls.

"This should trouble every fiscal conservative," he writes. "As a conservative myself, I'm often skeptical of government 'investments.' But when it comes to breakthroughs that could cure — not just treat — the most expensive diseases, government is unique."

He argues that as lawmakers work out the 2016 budget, the NIH should take precedence. "Doubling the institutes' budget once again would be a change on the right scale, although that increase should be accompanied by reforms to make the NIH less bureaucratic, to give the director more flexibility to focus resources on the most common and expensive health problems, and to place a stronger emphasis on truly breakthrough research," he adds.