A flat budget for the National Institutes of Health (NIH) isn't the only unpleasant surprise for research advocates in a House of Representatives spending bill released yesterday. The draft bill, which reflects Republicans' desire to undo the 2010 health care law and trim the Department of Health and Human Services, would wipe out HHS's Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality (AHRQ), the main supporter of evidence-based medicine. The bill also bars NIH from funding economics studies.
Approved today by the House Appropriations subcommittee on labor, HHS, and education, the bill holds NIH's budget at $30.6 billion. None of NIH's funding can be spent on "any economic research," the bill states. Howard Silver, executive director of the Consortium of Social Science Associations in Washington, D.C., says the provision appears to apply to long-running surveys on aging and retirement as well as research on health disparities and the costs of illness. "Any research where socio-economic status, wealth, or income are variables could be banned," he says. According to these NIH slides, NIH funded a total of $194 million in economics research in 2009. "To outright ban certain research makes no sense," says Jennifer Zeitzer, director of legislative relations for the Federation of American Societies for Experimental Biology.
Another directive would require NIH to certify to the HHS secretary that every grant it funds is "of scientific value" and will impact public health. That seems unneeded, Zeitzer says—it's what NIH's peer review process is for.