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    Ophthalmic funding faces uncertain future

    How the Affordable Care Act will affect ongoing and future research dollars

     

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    With a decline in research funding over the years, it is hoped by many that the Affordable Care Act will be the relief needed to keep the field growing and desirable to future ophthalmologists.

    Dr. Olson

    Salt Lake City—Funding for ophthalmic research continues to be in a state of flux.

    Though the Affordable Care Act (ACA)—also referred to as “Obamacare”—was the answer for which many physicians hoped would alleviate the issue, Randall J. Olson, MD, said it is too early to determine the health-care overhaul’s impact.

    “We can guess and throw out a bunch of different possibilities and say which of these is going to take traction or not, (but) that’s just guessing,” said Dr. Olson, professor and chairman, Department of Ophthalmology and Visual Sciences, and chief executive officer, John A. Moran Eye Center, University of Utah School of Medicine, Salt Lake City.

    Dr. Olson blamed the ACA’s “stormy” rollout this last fall for the confusion surrounding its future impact.

    However, politics also played a role in the ACA’s troubled start, which is not good for ophthalmic researchers, he added.

    “Politically—because, indeed sadly, the ACA has become a very big political hot potato—it’s not a red or blue issue,” Dr. Olson said. “This funding of our core basic research—which is our feedstock for the future—is not being invested in and not taken seriously.”

    Instead, focus should be taken much more intensely on ophthalmic research, as funding for the field has been in rapid decline for more than 30 years, he noted.

    Research funding crisis

    Even if a grant is approved in time, “there are always a few months [during which] the National Institutes of Health (NIH) says: ‘We’re not ready to fund it yet,’ and you’ve got to be in place to cover that,” Dr. Olson explained.

    For instance, where researchers could often cover themselves well if they had a couple of grants, Dr. Olson said in his experience, “at best you could cover 80% of the cost.”

    When considering what won’t be funded—the pilot studies necessary—for every new $1 million of NIH funding, researchers would have to come up with about $300,000 to keep their project together.

    “This is a tragic situation,” he said. “It’s discouraging many of the best and brightest who wanted to pursue research. They’re looking at this and saying: ‘You know, to be an independently funded person is a pretty difficult thing when I see senior members who have been successful for years and years, who are well regarded in the field, and they’re not getting funding.’”

    Because of these issues, Dr. Olson said he fears the ophthalmic research community is facing a crisis.

     

    joseph-rose-cuyahoga-engagement-photographer-065.jpg
    Rose Schneider Krivich
    Rose is the content specialist for Medical Economics.

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