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Physicist-Lawmaker on Board

Supports CMS on need to fund physician workforce, biomedical research
By Elizabeth Sidney

After years of sequestration and stagnation, the National Institutes of Health could see big funding infusions in 2016. The 21st Century Cures Act, passed overwhelmingly this July in the U.S. House, now awaits Senate action. The Chicago Medical Society (CMS) applauds this rare bipartisan move. CMS continues to lobby hard for the Act’s passage as well as new Medicare-supported residencies. Serving seven teaching institutions and a burgeoning medical district, CMS links physician workforce expansion with biomedical research. Both form key planks in our advocacy platform.

CMS outreach builds support for various GME expansion bills. One of the lawmakers who signed on early is U.S. Rep. Bill Foster of Illinois, with whom CMS maintains an ongoing relationship. The physicist-entrepreneur-cum-lawmaker, who represents the 11th District, made his second visit to CMS when he spoke before a packed crowd on June 22.

A rarity in Congress--the only PhD scientist and the lone physicist--Rep. Foster understands the perils, political and financial, facing academic researchers today. The Harvard-educated lawmaker spent most of his career at Fermi National Accelerator Laboratory. Today Rep. Foster serves on the House Committee on Science, Space, and Technology and on the Financial Services Committee. He participates in the full spectrum of science policy issues.

From this vantage point, Rep. Foster has insight into the under-investment in biomedical research. “Congress doesn’t understand the damage that’s done when you jerk around research budgets,” he said. Unlike a highway, which can be built on a year-by-year basis with delays, biomedical research can’t wait. “When you have a bad two or three years of funding for research, you lose a generation of researchers. We had several very good years in the early 2000s, mostly because of The America COMPETES Act, a bipartisan commitment to increase funding,” Rep. Foster said.

The short-term political incentives of getting elected have led to the nation’s under-funding of basic scientific research, he says. This is especially worrisome because China’s total expenditure in this area will surpass ours sometime in the next decade, Rep. Foster predicts. “You can be a hero if you balance the budget by cutting education and research, and you don’t have to pay the political price for the damage it does to our economy 10 or 30 years downstream.”

Bottom line: Rep. Foster says voters need to very consciously elect people who are willing to take on short-term political pain for the long-term best interests of the country.

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