White House Budget Would Severely Cut Kidney Research

On March 16, 2017, President Trump released the annual White House Budget Request. Dubbed the “Skinny Budget,” the budget—while light on details—is heavy-handed in the cuts it proposes to non-defense discretionary (NDD) funding. Chief among the $54 billion worth of cuts to NDD funding is a $15.1 billion cut to the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), roughly 18% less than the department received last year.

The National Institutes of Health (NIH), which resides within HHS, would receive an even larger cut proportionally. If enacted, President Trump’s budget would result in the loss of $5.8 billion, over 18% of the NIH’s funding from the previous year. If distributed equally among all of the research centers that comprise the NIH, cuts to the National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases (NIDDK) would total nearly $332.8 million.

Additional provisions including the elimination of the Fogarty International Center, which researches the effect of global climate change on international health outcomes, and the “consolidation” of the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality (AHRQ) into the NIH could result in an additional $10 million cut from NIDDK’s budget.

The cuts proposed by President Trump would be devastating to medical research. Facing nearly 20% cuts to their budget, the NIH would be forced to reduce funding for many existing grants, and to decrease the number of available grants, making already competitive funding even harder to come by. These cuts would filter directly to universities and labs across the country, and would result in a shortage of opportunities for scientists and a decrease in participation by this highly skilled workforce.

The kidney research community would be especially at risk. According to a recently released report by the Government Accountability Office (GAO), kidney research is vastly underfunded in comparison to the cost effects that kidney diseases and kidney failure have on Medicare. Spending more than the 2017 budget of the entire NIH on treating kidney failure alone through Medicare’s End Stage Renal Disease (ESRD) program, the federal government invests less than 1% of the amount spent on kidney disease in kidney research.

Additionally, the GAO report found that NIDDK spends what scant allocations it does receive judiciously, sending the majority of its allocation directly to researchers in the community. The GAO report found that NIDDK was in need of increased funding, and should not be made vulnerable to arbitrary cuts that will slow the development of life-saving, and cost-saving, treatments for kidney diseases.