Advocacy groups have reportedly warned Congress that if lawmakers don’t find permanent funding solutions for diabetes research programs, it could jeopardize important work being done around the country to help people living with diabetes.
Politicians on Capitol Hill have provided funding that will support the Special Diabetes Program and the Special Diabetes Program for Indians through March 31. But short-term patches will not be enough to keep the programs afloat, according to members of the American Diabetes Association and the JDRF.
“We’re relentlessly working to get Congress to come up with a viable strategy to move it forward and finalize it,” Meghan Riley, the ADA’s VP of federal government affairs, told The Hill.
Congress last reauthorized the Special Diabetes Program, formed by the National Institutes of Health in 1997 to fund research for Type I diabetes, in 2015. At the time, lawmakers budgeted $150 million over two years for the program. That funding lapsed at the end of September.
Before Congress left for the winter holidays in December, they budgeted $37.5 million to fund the program through the end of March. But the NIH has said that the partial renewal could “impact the National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases’ ability to fund grants, compromise quality and potential achievement of scientific research supported by the funds and potentially limit [its] ability to fund new research in FY18.”
The Special Diabetes Program for Indians was also dealt a $37.5 million funding patch that will support the program through March 31. The research initiative was designed to address the high rate of diabetes reported among American Indians and Alaska Natives.
Multiple groups have urged Congress to permanently reauthorize the programs in its next funding bill.
“It’s a threat to the workforce, it’s a threat to employment and it’s a threat to the stability of this program to continue doing the excellent work that it does,” Stacy Bohlen, executive director of the National Indian Health Board, told The Hill.
Lawmakers have until Feb. 8 to agree to a long-term funding bill that will keep the government running. While the diabetes programs are usually a bipartisan effort – a majority of Congress signed a letter in 2016 supporting the initiatives – officials responding to The Hill‘s request for comment seemed to have different ideas as to how the programs should be funded.
A Republican aide to Rep. Greg Walden (R-Ore.), chairman of the House Energy and Commerce Committee, wrote that Walden “believes the Special Diabetes Program, along with several other important public health programs, should receive long term funding extension as part of the next must-pass piece of legislation when Congress returns.”
Meanwhile, a Democratic spokesman for the committee told the news outlet that the diabetes program shouldn’t be wrapped up with a “potentially controversial” continuing resolution and that lawmakers should instead focus on a clean extension of the program.
According to a 2016 progress report, the Special Diabetes Program has helped to fund research into new technologies, like the artificial pancreas, and innovative therapies which have changed the way people manage Type I diabetes.
“The program needs to be fully funded in order to move new research forward,” Cynthia Rice, JDRF’s SVP of advocacy and policy, told The Hill.
“Essentially, right now, the National Institutes of Health can fund $37.5 million in research, but they have a portfolio of potential research, which is so promising, to deliver new therapies and new technologies to people with Type 1 diabetes that they can’t fund.”