The House Labor, Health and Human Services, Education, and Related Agencies (Labor-HHS) Appropriations Subcommittee Feb. 25 held a hearing to discuss the president’s fiscal year (FY) 2017 budget request for the Department of Health and Human Services [see Washington Highlights, Feb. 12].
In his opening remarks, Subcommittee Chair Tom Cole (R-Okla.) expressed his disappointment with the administration’s proposal to achieve the proposed increase for the National Institutes of Health (NIH) by decreasing discretionary funding, and instead, including nearly $2 billion in mandatory funding for NIH. Chairman Cole called the proposal “disheartening” as it diverts “$1 billion of biomedical research funds to the mandatory side of the budget ledger that relies on new and, perhaps unlikely, authorizations to continue the advances we have made in increasing research.”
Ranking Member Rosa DeLauro (D-Conn.) reiterated the chairman’s concerns about requesting mandatory spending for NIH while decreasing the discretionary spending for NIH, stating that she is concerned that important programs would have to rely on mandatory spending. She urged her colleagues to respond quickly to the administration’s request for emergency supplemental funding for the Zika virus (see related story) because it is necessary to “defend against this serious threat.”
In his opening statement, House Appropriations Committee Chair Hal Rogers (R- Ky.) also added to the concern over mandatory funding, stating that funding the administration’s “moonshot” cancer initiative through mandatory funding was “disingenuous.” He did thank the administration for its efforts “to keep the national spotlight on prescription drug and heroin abuse.”
Rep. Barbara Lee (D – Calif.) thanked the administration for requesting continued funding for Title VII diversity pipeline program, the Health Careers Opportunity Program; however, Rep. Lee expressed concern over the administration’s proposal to eliminate the Title VII Area Health Education Centers (AHECs), stating that AHECs are “critical for minorities and low-income families.”
In her testimony, Health and Human Services (HHS) Secretary Sylvia Burwell highlighted the importance of “increasing access to health care for minority and underserved populations.” She also added that this budget request includes “additional funding to place providers in rural areas and other underserved communities in order to expand access to treatment for prescription opioid and heroin abuse and to improve access to crucial mental and behavioral health services.”
Burwell discussed the advancements made by biomedical research through NIH funding, specifically highlighting the decrease in cardiovascular death rates in the last 60 years, which have “fallen by more than 70 percent,” and the decrease in cancer death rates.
The subcommittee also expressed interest in the Precision Medicine Initiative, the BRAIN initiative, and efforts to address prescription drug abuse.