As seen on TV: Wacky government health spending

When the National Institutes of Health received a $299 million increase in the fiscal 2012 omnibus bill enacted in mid-December, many patient, provider and industry advocacy groups celebrated.

"By prioritizing our investment in the NIH, Congress is showcasing its commitment to our country’s health and economic well-being,” said Marc Casper, spokesman for United for Medical Research, said in a written statement issued after the budget bill cleared Congress.

But the author of an end-of-the-year congressional report on dubious government spending would likely have a more skeptical take on those funds going toward any advancement of the nation's health. The report, written by longtime fiscal hawk Sen. Tom Coburn (R-Okla.) and released shortly before the budget deal was completed, identified several eyebrow-raising research initiatives among the 100 federally funded programs on which he focused.

For example, the NIH’s National Institute of Child Health and Human Development awarded $702,558 for researchers to purchase televisions and generators and ship them to seven villages in remote, mountainous areas of Vietnam. The Pennsylvania State University researchers plan to use the equipment to "fill a perceived gap in existing research about the causal link between television and family formation and reproductive health" according to the report.

The latest funding adds to about $600,000 in federal research funding the study previously had secured.

So, with a few hundred million more available in the coming year for NIH studies, could sending generators and Sony PlayStations to Pyongyang be next? Time will tell.

Follow Rich Daly on Twitter: @MHRDaly.



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