aamc.org does not support this web browser.
  • Washington Highlights

    House Appropriations Committee Approves HHS Spending Bill

    Tannaz Rasouli, Sr. Director, Public Policy & Strategic Outreach

    In a markup that extended over two days, the House Appropriations Committee July 14 approved on a party-line vote, 31-19, the fiscal year (FY) 2017 Labor-HHS-Ed appropriations bill. The committee adopted five amendments to the bill approved by the subcommittee one week earlier [see Washington Highlights, July 8].

    Committee Chair Hal Rogers (R-Ky.) noted the bill includes a $1.25 billion increase for the National Institutes of Health (NIH), which would be “directed to critical research initiatives, focusing on diseases like Alzheimer’s and pediatric cancer,” and also highlighted the bill’s establishment of an Infectious Diseases Rapid Response Reserve Fund, which would “allow the CDC director immediate access to funds to respond to future emergencies.”

    Subcommittee Ranking Member Rosa DeLauro (D-Conn.) offered an amendment to increase NIH funding in the bill by $750 million, for a total $2 billion increase for NIH, with $550 million of the increase directed to the Cancer Moonshot initiative. The amendment proposed to offset the additional NIH funding by designating funds provided in the House bill for the infectious disease reserve fund and for opioid response efforts as emergency funding so they would not count against budget caps.

    While the amendment failed on a party-line vote, Subcommittee Chair Tom Cole (R–Okla.) acknowledged the “importance of building on what we accomplished [for NIH] last year and even what [the committee has] proposed this year so far,” adding that he believes the committee will be able to “raise the number that’s already in the base bill substantially, working together across the aisle, because our friends in the Senate have the same goal.” The bill approved by the Senate Appropriations Committee June 9 provides a $2 billion increase for NIH [see Washington Highlights, June 10].

    Committee members also discussed NIH funding during an amendment offered by Committee Ranking Member Nita Lowey (D-N.Y.) to provide $1.9 billion in emergency spending for Zika response, which she argued would free up funds under the budget caps to “move even more rapidly in investing in NIH,” in the same spirit as the doubling of the NIH budget between 1999 and 2003.

    Chairman Cole agreed with the sentiment and responded, “Let’s be careful about goals because when we reach them, we stop. And what we probably need to do in this area is have a sustained increase over a long period of time...because we want this to become a habit that we almost take for granted.” Emphasizing the strong bipartisan support for medical research, he added, “Senator Blunt has made the point, and I think he’s exactly right, this year is probably more important than last year to get us back into the routine so that last year isn't a one-hit wonder. It’s the beginning of a process.”

    Like the amendment offered by Rep. DeLauro, the committee rejected Rep. Lowey’s Zika amendment over concerns by Republican committee members that designating emergency funding outside the budget caps would increase deficit spending.

    While funding levels for many programs and provisions in the bill – including an increase for the Children’s Hospital Graduate Medical Education program, a cut to the Agency for Health Care Research and Quality, partially rescinded funding from the Patient-Centered Outcomes Research Trust Fund and the Center for Medicare and Medicaid Innovation, and a prohibition on patient-centered outcomes research – became available one week earlier when the subcommittee released bill text, funding levels for only some programs were included in the committee’s report.

    For example, the Title VII Health Professions programs received $294.2 million, which is a 12.1 percent increase above the FY 2016 levels. The substantial increase in funding is due to the transfer of the Behavioral Health Workforce Education and Training (BHWET) program from the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration to the Health Resources and Service Administration, and the bill provides $50 million for the program. Like the Senate bill, the House bill eliminates the Health Careers and Opportunity Program (HCOP) for the first time since FY 2012.

    Democratic members voiced strong concerns over the bill. Specifically, they voiced concerns over the bill’s elimination of funding for Title X Family Planning and the Teen Pregnancy Prevention program. Committee Ranking Member Nita Lowey (D-N.Y.) and DeLauro also raised objections that the bill continues restrictions on gun violence research and prevention. Both offered amendments to remove the restrictions from the bill, but both amendments failed on party-line votes.