Finally, a budget deal that doesn't forget about Alzheimer's

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John O'Connor
John O'Connor

A tentative budget deal reached Tuesday night sets aside an additional $350 million for Alzheimer's disease research.

Democratic leaders cautioned that details still need to be ironed out. Regardless, this largest-ever funding increase for Alzheimer's is both welcome and overdue. The reality is that an estimated 5.3 million people have Alzheimer's, and it is one of the fastest-growing service segments in the senior living field.

An Alzheimer's Association report projects Medicare spending on people with Alzheimer's disease to more than quadruple in just over a generation to $589 billion annually in 2050. The same report notes that a treatment that delays the onset of Alzheimer's by just five years would save Medicare $345 billion in the first 10 years alone.

“These funds will begin to be released immediately to launch new, groundbreaking Alzheimer's research; research that will accelerate our progress toward ultimately eliminating the disease,” said Harry Johns, president and CEO of the Alzheimer's Association.

At press time, the Senate was expected to vote on the $1.1 trillion spending bill Thursday or Friday.

The measure also would lift sequester spending caps to increase discretionary spending by about $80 billion over two years. To offset this expense, negotiators tapped a number of sources, including by making changes to Medicare and Social Security.

The legislation would limit a historic premium increase for some Medicare Part B beneficiaries for services like hospital-provided care and physician visits. The agreement also would prevent a potential 20% across-the-board cut to Social Security Disability Insurance benefits set to kick in during 2016.

The National Institutes of Health emerged as a clear winner. The organization is set to receive a $2 billion funding uptick, pending approval. For now, NIH officials aren't saying how they plan to spend the extra funding — they're waiting to make sure the bill actually passes the House.

In a related tax move, Congress will suspend Obamacare's tax on medical devices for two years, through the end of 2017.

The agreement has its political merits as well. It would basically bring an end to the heated budget battles between congressional Republicans and President Obama by pushing the next round of fiscal decision making past the 2016 election. More than anything else, that may be the reason this budget — warts and all — gets approved.

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