Health and Human Services (HHS) Secretary Xavier Becerra testified on April 15 before the House Appropriations Subcommittee on Labor, HHS, Education, and Related Agencies regarding President Biden’s fiscal year (FY) 2022 budget request [refer to related story].
Subcommittee members addressed several issues during the hearing including medical research, the health care workforce, gun violence, the opioid crisis, maternal health, mental health, and the care for unaccompanied migrant children at the border.
In his opening statement, Secretary Becerra noted, “COVID-19 shed light on how health inequities and lack of Federal funding left communities vulnerable to crises. The President’s discretionary request invests in America, addresses racial disparities in health care, tackles the opioid crisis, and puts us on a better footing to take on the next public health crisis.”
Chair of both the full and subcommittee Rosa DeLauro (D-Conn.) and subcommittee Ranking Member Tom Cole (R-Okla.) praised the budget’s proposed increased investment in the National Institutes of Health (NIH) and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). “We now have faced a pandemic in our lifetime. ... I firmly believe our investments in NIH over the past several years made us better positioned to address the challenges of coronavirus. We cannot let that commitment to sustained increases waver,” Cole said in his opening statement.
DeLauro addressed the proposed Advanced Research Projects Agency for Health (ARPA-H) within the NIH budget, noting an interest in learning more about the proposal and the need to continue investments in existing research at the NIH.
Rep. Andy Harris (D-Md.) questioned Sec. Becerra on the ARPA-H proposal, citing concern that the new initiative would move the NIH farther from basic research, or duplicate institutes already housed within the NIH.
“We’re trying to move beyond just the basic research to be able to have transformational results,” Becerra responded. “What we think we can do is help make things click a lot faster by putting some additional money into that research and development that lets us get something from an idea to actually a practice.”
Rep. Mark Pocan (D-Wis.) asked if the administration planned to remove restrictions that were imposed by the Trump administration on the use of fetal tissue in NIH-funded research [refer to Washington Highlights, Jan. 8]. Sec. Becerra restated, “We believe that we have to do the research that it takes to make sure that we’re incorporating innovation and getting all of those types of treatments and therapies out there to the American people.”
Becerra’s comments were followed on April 16 with an NIH guide notice reversing the previous requirement that all research applications for NIH grants proposing the use of human fetal tissue be reviewed by an ethics advisory board, while retaining additional restrictions imposed in 2019.
Rep. Cheri Bustos (D-Ill.) thanked the Secretary for the proposed $153 billion for the CDC Social Determinants of Health Program, which was part of her Social Determinants Accelerator Act [refer to Washington Highlights, March 13, 2020]. The Congresswoman noted the importance of addressing the non-clinical factors that impact health and praised the administration for addressing this issue.
Responding to a question from Rep. Josh Harder (D-Calif.) on the health care provider shortage in rural communities, Sec. Becerra noted the 1,000 new Medicare-supported graduate medical education slots will help increase the training of new doctors [refer to Washington Highlights, Dec. 23, 2020].
The subcommittee is expected to hear testimony from NIH and CDC officials in May.