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A Crucial Moment for the ATS: Research Funding and Physician Reimbursement

April 2013
Monica Kraft, MD

Monica Kraft, MD

A Crucial Moment for the ATS: Research Funding and Physician Reimbursement

As you already know, U.S. clinicians and researchers will be acutely affected by the series of federal budget cuts known as sequestration. The ATS is acting fast to mitigate this crisis.

As I write, our Washington, D.C., office is busy preparing for the annual Hill Day in late March, in which ATS officers, members, and patients visit members of Congress to make the case for more funding for lung disease research and advocate against cuts to Medicare physician reimbursement.

The Society will also co-sponsor the Rally for Medical Research on April 8 in Washington to show support for medical research through the National Institutes of Health. Under sequestration, the NIH stands to lose a total of $1.55 billion of its $31 billion annual budget. NIH leaders have said that the budget for each institute will be cut by 5 percent.

The ramifications of sequestration are already being felt by senior and junior investigators. Paylines for grants are at a low that we haven’t seen since the early 1990s. For instance, the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute has set an interim payline at the 6th percentile forR01/R21 research grant applications. That means for every hundred applications, only six get funded—that’s how bad it is.

With this model, senior investigators who are unable to renew their grants will have their hands tied. They won’t be able to support their trainees, technicians, or themselves. Younger researchers will find it even more challenging to establish themselves, which will prevent them from launching potentially groundbreaking studies and becoming the next generation who continue our work.

To help these members, our Executive Committee has voted to revamp the ATS Foundation Research Program unrestricted awards for 2013. The Foundation will now provide awards to additional select individuals who may have missed the NIH’s payline but show great potential.

These awards, which will be determined by the ATS Scientific Advisory Committee, will serve as bridge funding to assist these senior and junior investigators as they reapply for R01/R21 research and K career awards. Just to be clear, this change will only affect unrestricted awards—our ATS Foundation Partner Grants and 2013 Methods in Epidemiologic, Clinical, and Operations Research (MECOR) Awards will continue as usual. To stay abreast of this effort, I encourage you all to sign up for the Research Program mailing list.

The partnerships between the NIH, especially the NHLBI, are essential as we enter this difficult time. This is why I’m very pleased to share that the new NHLBI Director Gary H. Gibbons, MD, will join us for a couple of days during the ATS 2013 International Conference in Philadelphia, May 17–22.

We’re keeping Dr. Gibbons very busy during his visit. He’ll present his lecture, “Imagining the Future Together—the NHLBI at 75: Partners in Stewardship in the Public Interest,” during the President’s Symposium on Sunday. This presentation will focus on how the research they fund fits into the bigger picture of improved human health. He’ll also connect with trainees, senior investigators, and many others from our diverse membership during his visit.

While we’d be honored to have Dr. Gibbons attend just about any ATS event, his upcoming visit to ATS 2013 couldn’t come at a time more crucial to our members, which is why I also urge all of you to attend ATS 2013, especially if you’re based in the Greater Philadelphia area. Even if it’s just for the weekend (and don’t forget to look at our new Special Weekend Rate), it’s critical that we as a Society connect and collaborate to plan for future of pulmonary, critical care, and sleep medicine.

Last Reviewed: September 2017