Through our partnership with the National Alliance for Eye and Vision Research (NAEVR), U.S.-based ARVO members can contact their Senators and Representatives. As of February 2021, we are asking members to contact their Congresspeople and advocate for federal funding for the National Institutes of Health (NIH) and National Eye Institute (NEI).
As Congress begins work on Fiscal Year (FY) 2022 appropriations for the National Institutes of Health (NIH), I ask that it fund NIH at a level of $46.1 billion, an increase of $3.17 billion over FY2021. For the National Eye Institute (NEI), I request a funding level of $900 million, an increase of $64.3 million over FY2021. I also ask that Congress pass supplemental appropriations legislation to support COVID-19 related expenses on both pandemic- and non-pandemic research.
The $3.17 billion NIH increase allows for: 5 percent growth above the 2.4 percent inflation in the base budget to support promising research at the Institutes and Centers, such as the NEI; ensures that funding from the Innovation Account established by the 21st Century Cures Act would supplement NIH’s base budget, as intended by Congress; and support the next generation of scientists through funding for early-stage investigators.
Despite the FY2016-2021 funding increases totaling $160 million, NEI’s FY2021 enacted budget of $835.7 million is just 19 percent greater than the pre-sequester FY2012 funding of $702 million. Averaged over the nine fiscal years since 2012, NEI’s 2.1 percent annual growth rate is less than the average annual biomedical inflation rate of 2.7 percent, making it difficult for NEI to maintain its purchasing power, which is less than that in FY2012.
NEI’s current $835.7 million funding is also less than 0.5 percent of the $177 billion annual cost of vision disorders, which is projected to grow to $717 billion in inflation-adjusted dollars by year 2050—primarily driven by an aging population. The U.S. spends only $2.53 per-person, per-year for vision research, while the cost of treating low vision and blindness is $6,680 per-person, per-year. Additionally, the direct medical costs associated with eye disorders are now the fifth highest, only less than heart disease, cancers, emotional disorders, and pulmonary conditions.
These costs will only continue to grow due to the aging of the population, the disproportionate incidence of eye disease in fast-growing minority populations, and vision loss associated with chronic diseases, such as diabetes. Based on 2010 U.S. Census data, NEI has estimated that of the 143 million Americans age 40-plus, four million were blind or had significant vision impairment and 37 million had an age-related eye disease such as age-related macular degeneration (AMD), glaucoma, diabetic retinopathy, or cataract. NEI-funded research to identify the genetic basis of these blinding eye diseases and to regenerate neurons/neural connections in the eye and visual system through its Audacious Goals Initiative deserve adequate support.
A 2016 JAMA Ophthalmology article reported that a majority of Americans across racial and ethnic lines describe losing vision as potentially having the greatest impact on their day-to-day life, more so than loss of limb, memory, hearing, and speech. They support increased NEI funding.
I ask that you support sustained and predictable future NIH/NEI funding increases to build upon the past investment in life-saving and life-improving research that benefits all Americans.
Thank you for considering my request.
[Your digital signature and information]