August 2, 2011

Message from Vice Chancellor Balser about Federal Debt Ceiling and VUMC


The ongoing debate by Congress and the President about the budget and the debt ceiling limit creates uncertainty for America's academic medical centers. While the initial debt ceiling crisis may be resolving, we are not immune to delays or reductions in revenue in the coming months from any number of federal sources. Among other federal agencies, the National Institutes of Health, Medicare and Medicaid provide substantial financial support for VUMC's missions.

Legislation passed today creates the opportunity for future reductions to funding for both Medicare and Medicaid that could prove significant. This legislation, as currently worded, places the burden of these reductions on health care providers — hospitals and physicians. The potential also remains for reduced funding to Vanderbilt and other academic medical centers that support graduate medical education, funds necessary to train residents and fellows; our nation's next generation of physicians.

The legislation includes new spending caps (limits) for domestic discretionary spending. While it is unclear exactly how this cap will be allocated between various federal agencies in FY 2012 and beyond, there remains the potential for reduced funding for the National Institutes of Health for mission-critical basic science, translational and clinical research programs.

I want you to be assured the leadership of the University and Medical Center have been engaged in planning for some time. And fortunately, these reductions will occur in a phased process. The Chancellor has provided a statement on the University's position and actions on the University website here.

Our efforts have been broad, including measures to build, secure and diversify our financial reserves and dialogue and collaborate with other leading academic medical centers. In recent weeks, we have made significant progress in clarifying for the nation's leaders the adverse long-term consequences of federal budget actions that disproportionately impact academic medicine.

At this stage, we are following the unfolding events in Washington closely. Despite more than three years of serious economic challenges and uncertainly, by focusing our energies and resources on our central missions of education, research and patient care, and by selflessly prioritizing the needs of our colleagues, students and patients, we are now stronger than at any time in our history. I am confident we will successfully navigate whatever the future holds.

Jeff Balser, M.D., Ph.D.
Vice Chancellor for Health Affairs
Dean, Vanderbilt University School of Medicine