WASHINGTON (CN) – In his announcement Wednesday that $5 billion has been pumped into biomedical research, President Barack Obama took a swipe at his predecessor’s policy on science and used the opportunity to promote the ongoing campaign for health care reform.
The $5 billion, said to be the biggest single investment ever in biomedical the industry, is part of the $787 billion stimulus package. From more than 20,000 applications, 12,000 grants have been awarded so far.
Speaking at the National Institute of Health, in Maryland, Obama described the benefits of such an investment, saying it is generating tens of thousands of new jobs and will help with solving some of today’s leading health problems.
In an indirect jab, Obama noted the George W. Bush administration’s effort to undermine scientific research by lacing religious and business considerations into the support of research. “In recent years we’ve seen our leadership slipping as scientific integrity was at times undermined and research funding failed to keep pace,” he said.
Obama also took the opportunity to promote his plans for health care reform.
“Decades of research make no difference to the family that is dropped from an insurance policy when a child gets sick,” he said. “That’s why we’re working so hard to pass long-overdue reforms.”
Obama addressed those who have said such reforms involve too much government control of health care. “This concern about the involvement of government I should point out has been present whenever we have sought to improve our health care system,” he said, and made reference to the complaints when Franklin D Roosevelt established the NIH.
Obama cited a quote from FDR that rings a familiar note to the doubts surrounding today’s health care reform. “Neither the American people, nor their government, intends to socialize medical practice,” Roosevelt said.
He listed the roles that researchers at the NIH have played- developing the first successful chemotherapy and testing the polio vaccine.
Currently Congress is considering health care reform bills, and on Tuesday, the Senate Finance Committee struck down two amendments that would have added a public option to its version of the bill.
Dean Stephen Shortell of the University of California, Berkley School of Public Health was very supportive. He said the funds have “been a great boon for us,” and called the investment “an important increase” as compared to the funding under the previous administration.
The University of California system has received more than $260 million for biomedical research under the stimulus package.
Grants have gone towards research in cancer, autism, HIV, and heart disease, among other things.
Heart disease remains the leading cause of death in the United States.
In the next year, 1.5 million people will be diagnosed with cancer, and half a million will die from it.
And autism, which affects more than one in every 150 children, is receiving the largest infusion of funds ever, Obama announced to cheers.
More than $1 billion is going towards genetic research.
“We know that these investments in research will improve and save countless lives for generations to come,” said Obama.
Stressing the importance of government funded research, he said, “Some research does not lend itself to quick profit.”
“We can only imagine the new discoveries that will flow from the investments we make today,” he concluded.
He then shook hands with those nearest the stage, largely NIH employees, but made sure to waive to the entire audience before leaving. The room immediately became a sea of moving arms, filled with cheers.