Videos & Speeches

Madam President, I wish to call to the attention of my colleagues the idea that biomedical research must be a national priority.

The Presiding Officer and myself, as members of the Appropriations Committee, are in the process of crafting our appropriations bills for fiscal year 2016, and we face a tremendous task in trying to balance effective, efficient government operations with the necessity of righting our nation's fiscal course during very difficult and challenging times. Therefore, what I take from that--the circumstance we are in--is it is extremely important that we prioritize initiatives that are effective in their service to the American people and demonstrate a significant and sufficient return on investment. Congress should set spending priorities and focus our resources on initiatives with proven outcomes. No initiative meets these criteria better than biomedical research supported by the National Institutes of Health.

NIH-supported research has raised life expectancy, improved the quality of life, lowered overall health care costs, and is an economic engine that strengthens American global competitiveness.

The benefits of NIH are widely acknowledged on a bipartisan basis. During the recent negotiations on the fiscal year 2016 budget agreement, 34 of my Senate colleagues, both Republicans and Democrats, cosponsored an amendment I offered affirming NIH biomedical research as a national priority. I was pleased this amendment was included in the final budget agreement passed by Congress.

Furthermore, the Senator from South Carolina, Mr. Graham, and the Senator from Illinois, Mr. Durbin, have recently agreed to form a Senate NIH--National Institutes of Health--Caucus. I am happy to be a founding member of this caucus, which will offer an opportunity for Senators to visit about the importance of NIH and to seek bipartisan strategies to provide steady, predictable growth for biomedical research.

If the United States is to continue its leadership in providing medical breakthroughs to develop cures and treat diseases, we must be committed to supporting this research.

If researchers cannot rely on consistent support from Congress, we will jeopardize our current programs, we will reduce our progress, stunt our nation's competitiveness, and lose a generation of young researchers to other careers or other countries.

New scientific findings help us confront the staggering challenges of disease and illness. One such challenge I wish to focus on in my remarks is Alzheimer's. It is a devastating and irreversible brain disease that slowly destroys an individual's cognitive functioning, including memory and thought. Today, more than 5.3 million Americans are living with this terrible disease. Every minute, someone in our country develops Alzheimer's. It is the sixth leading cause of death in the United States, and it is the only cause of death among the top 10 in the United States that cannot be prevented, cured or even slowed.

Within these grim statistics are immeasurable suffering and stress this disease places on individuals, on their families, on their friends. This reality hits home in the stories I hear from Kansans.

The Alzheimer's Association's Heart of America Chapter in Prairie Village, KS, tells me about Ricky from Topeka:

Ricky has early onset Alzheimer's disease. He is 60 years old. Due to Alzheimer's disease, Ricky had to retire from a good-paying job because he no longer was able to do the work. He and his family expected him to work at least another 5 years or more, and they had plans that were interrupted that caused them to have to adjust from a two-income family to a single-income family.

Ricky is frustrated at times and tries to maintain a positive attitude with his family and his peers. He and all members of his early stage support group are very scared about their future and they are desperate for a cure. They are worried about the burden they might place upon their families.

Ricky and so many of his peers are continually looking for ways to slow down the progression of this disease. This includes testing himself daily with the use of an iPad, trying new foods, and joining in a research study at the University of Kansas Medical Center. Fortunately, Ricky is still able to ride his Harley Davidson, but he knows the day is coming when the thing he enjoys so much will not be able to occur again.

I am also aware of Katrina from Shawnee, KS. She is an Alzheimer's Association ambassador and she shared her story:

“As personal and health care advocates, my brother and I used more than 7 weeks of personal vacation time--some unpaid--during our mother's final year of care. During the year, she was transitioned through 10 different care facilities, we worked with more than two dozen health care professionals at these locations and some were not even notified of her basic needs such as her iodine allergy or insurance--information she was unable to share during her moves. This would be a significant life change for anyone--but especially for our mother, a 67 year old, physically strong woman but cognitively impaired due to early onset dementia diagnosed at age 59.”

Katrina said they reflect upon her passing, which is now 3 months ago, and the emotional and financial toll of the last 27 months couldn't be quantified--long-term savings and time off from work for vacations were limited, and the time spent at work was interrupted with calls, doctors appointments, and meetings to communicate with care providers “regarding our mother's ongoing care needs, including behavioral challenges.”

“My brother and I are 40 and 37--we have children ages 4 to 15--we worked full time during this period of time, while doing everything we could to advocate for our mother's care. We are fortunate to have devoted spouses, family, and friends and understanding employers that worked through these difficult times with us.”

All of us in the Senate, every American knows someone who has been affected, someone whose family member has been affected by the terrible disease Alzheimer's. It is a tremendous personal tragedy, this disease, but it is also a very expensive disease, and we have a lot to gain both in the care for people and the quality of their lives that we want to maintain.

We also have the opportunity to invest in Alzheimer's research that will reduce the cost of Alzheimer's to us as taxpayers, to health care, to those of us who pay insurance premiums. This is a way we also can save money because, on average, per-person Medicare spending for individuals with Alzheimer's and other dementias is three times higher than Medicare spending across the board for all other seniors. So for Alzheimer's patients, Medicare has per-person expenditures three times the amount of other seniors on Medicare.

This year, the direct cost to America for caring for those with Alzheimer's is estimated at $226 billion. Half of these annual costs--more than $100 billion--will be borne by Medicare. These numbers mean that nearly one in five Medicare dollars is spent on individuals with Alzheimer's disease and other dementias.

In 2050, which isn't that far away, this amount will be one in every three Medicare dollars will be spent on Alzheimer's and dementia diseases. Unless something is done, in 2050, Alzheimer's will cost our country over $1 trillion in 2015 dollars. Taking into account inflation, it will be $1 trillion, and costs to Medicare will increase more than 400 percent to nearly $590 billion.

We must commit to a national strategy for speeding the development of effective interventions for Alzheimer's disease. As the baby boomer generation ages, Alzheimer's has unfortunately become a disease to define a generation, but it doesn't have to be an inevitable part of the aging process. America can tackle Alzheimer's by prioritization of our biomedical research capabilities.

In a recent New York Times editorial, former Speaker Newt Gingrich praised the considerable benefits of NIH and specifically a research breakthrough relating to Alzheimer's. He noted that a breakthrough that could delay the onset of the disease by just 5 years, slow the onset by 5 years, would reduce the number of Americans with Alzheimer's in 2050 by 42 percent and cut costs by a third.

These encouraging statistics--the idea that we can have hope and that there is a better day--these encouraging statistics would also represent increased health and quality of life for both patients and their loved ones. Current research advances give us that reason for hope. Dr. Francis Collins, the Director of the National Institutes of Health, recently stated, ``Alzheimer's research is entering a new era in which creative approaches for detecting, measuring and analyzing a wide range of biomedical data sets are leading to new insights about the causes and course of the disease.''

Dr. Collins calls on our nation's medical researchers to work smarter, faster, and more collaboratively to determine the best path for progress in Alzheimer's disease research. As an example, NIH is implementing a new initiative called the Accelerating Medicines Partnership, working together with pharmaceutical companies to develop the next generation of drug targets for Alzheimer's disease, as well as rheumatoid arthritis, type 2 diabetes, and lupus.

NIH is also leading the Brain Research through Advancing Intuitive Neurotechnologies Initiative, or BRAIN Initiative, which is a multiagency effort to revolutionize our understanding of the human brain. The objective of the BRAIN Initiative is to enable the development and use of innovative technologies to produce a clear understanding of how individual cells and neural circuits interact. By better understanding how the brain works, technologies developed under this initiative could help reveal the underlying cause of a wide array of brain disorders. 

Understanding these causes will provide new avenues to treat, cure, and prevent neurological and psychiatric conditions such as Alzheimer's disease, traumatic brain injury, autism, schizophrenia, and epilepsy.

Groundbreaking research is taking place, and Congress must do its part to prioritize the important work supported by the NIH. As a member of the Senate Appropriations subcommittee that is responsible for the funding of NIH, I am committed to working with my colleagues to see that prioritization of NIH occurs and that within NIH there is strong support for Alzheimer's research.

In 2011, Congress passed the National Alzheimer's Plan that specifically lays out a series of scientific milestones that researchers think need to be met in order to make meaningful impact on the trajectory of Alzheimer's by 2025--what is the plan to get us where we need to be by that point in time?

Over the last two years, Congress has provided NIH with approximately $125 million in increased funding to support good science that addresses Alzheimer's disease and other dementias. Additionally, we have worked to include language in the fiscal year 2015 omnibus that requires NIH to submit a yearly budget request for Alzheimer's research based on what is required to fund the necessary science. This particular effort is to make certain we have a specific, accountable research plan to ensure that our resources are effectively targeted to meet these milestones the scientific community has established.

Alzheimer's disease is a defining challenge for our generation. The health and financial future of our nation are at stake, and the United States simply must not continue to ignore such a threat. This is a moral and financial issue. It is one that should be easy for us to come together on. If you are the person or the senator who cares the most about people, who cares in compassionate ways, you should be for medical research. If you are the senator who cares about the fiscal condition of our country and getting our financial house in order, you should be for biomedical research.

This commitment by all of us will significantly lower costs and improve health care outcomes for people living with the disease today and those who may encounter it in the future. Together, we can. This is what we are all here for. Together, we can make a difference, and we can do that by making a sustained commitment to Alzheimer's research that will benefit our nation and bring hope and healing to Americans today and tomorrow.

The challenge is ours, and the moment to act on this disease is today. It is important for our moms, our dads, our grandparents, our family members, our friends. For the fiscal health of our nation, the time to act is now.