Health and Human Services (HHS) Secretary Alex Azar April 4 testified on the president’s fiscal year (FY) 2020 budget proposal [see Washington Highlights, March 15 and March 22] before the Senate Appropriations Subcommittee on Labor, Health and Human Services, Education, and Related Agencies (Labor-HHS). During the hearing, Senators highlighted a variety of issues including concerns about the administration’s proposed cuts to the National Institutes of Health (NIH), reductions to Medicaid financing, funding for health workforce programs, and the Affordable Care Act.
In their opening statements, Subcommittee Chair Roy Blunt (R-Mo.) and Ranking Member Patty Murray (D-Wash.) expressed concerns over the administration’s proposal to cut NIH funding in FY 2020. Chairman Blunt noted that the Subcommittee has historically made NIH a top priority and again would like to make sure that medical research has “the resources it needs,” while noting that Congress must reach a larger budget deal for that to occur. Ranking Member Murray added that “cutting medical research by 13% … would slow our efforts to advance our understanding of Alzheimer’s Disease, develop vaccines for HIV and flu, and treatments and cures” for all cancers.
Emphasizing the need to invest in our health workforce, Ranking Member Murray also criticized the administration’s proposed cuts to the Health Resources and Services Administration health workforce programs emphasizing that “the tuition assistance, loan repayment and training programs” are vital in addressing our country’s health care workforce. Chairman Blunt also addressed the need for a health workforce that focuses on mental health, praising the administration’s continued investment in mental and behavioral health programs.
During the hearing, Democrats pressed Secretary Azar on the budget’s proposal to repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act (ACA) and the administration’s support for the Texas v. United States lawsuit [see related story]. Senators asked how the elimination of the ACA would affect drug pricing, patients with preexisting conditions, and Medicaid expansion. Sen. Chris Murphy (D-Conn.) discussed how the budget’s $1.4 trillion proposed cut to Medicaid would negatively affect those patients who are suffering from opioid use disorder, noting “4 out of 10 nonelderly adults dealing with addiction are on Medicaid.”
The Subcommittee is scheduled to reconvene April 11 with testimony from NIH Director Francis Collins, MD, PhD, regarding the FY 2020 proposed budget for NIH.