Collins anticipates some negative consequences to work being done at the NIH. He said it would be difficult to apply 5.1 percent cuts -- or $1.56 billion -- to the seven months left in this fiscal year. "Science is best supported in the circumstances in which you have a stable trajectory where you can plan month to month," he said. "It's a time of extraordinary scientific progress and extraordinary debt."
Antos, of the American Enterprise Institute, said consumers shouldn't worry that scientific research will stop immediately due to relatively small trims to a federally supported research agency such as the NIH: "There is plenty that is not financed by the federal government alone. Remember that the NIH sponsors somewhat theoretical [long-term] research. They're still going to run with the projects they've got going."
Still, Mary Woolley, president and CEO of Research!America, a Washington, D.C., nonprofit group that supports medical and scientific research, thinks research needs to be given a much higher public priority. "Those that feel that [the budget cuts] are just a paper cut are misinformed. It's a serious self-inflicted wound," she said. "If we don't continue to robustly fund the research and evidence base that will help us get a handle on escalating health-care costs, we could bankrupt the nation."
Woolley said Congress has to start focusing on big-ticket items such as Medicare and Medicaid that have a huge impact on health care. "The sequester is a side show compared to what really needs to happen: tax reform and entitlement reform. People know both of these need work, and they're hard, but that's the job [our representatives] are elected to work on," she said.
For more information about health-care costs, visit the Kaiser Family Foundation.