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  • Washington Highlights

    Senate Appropriators Examine President’s FY 2017 HHS Budget Request

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

    The Senate Labor, Health and Human Services, Education, and Related Agencies (Labor-HHS) Appropriations Subcommittee March 3 held a hearing to discuss the president’s fiscal year (FY) 2017 budget request for the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) [see Washington Highlights, Feb. 12].

    In his opening remarks, Subcommittee Chair Roy Blunt (R-Mo.) expressed his disappointment that the FY 2017 budget request “cuts almost $2 billion for programs currently funded by discretionary spending in the Labor/HHS bill, and expects new, unauthorized mandatory funding to fill those holes.” In addition, he was concerned with the “$1 billion cut to the National Institutes of Health,” and he noted “funding would be eliminated to our nation’s Children’s hospitals” because the administration is proposing to fund the program through a mandatory appropriation.

    Ranking Member Patty Murray (D-Wash.) expressed concern that “intense competition for NIH grants means that fewer than 20 percent of applications get funded, leaving lots of promising science without support.” Sen. Murray voiced concern about the opioid epidemic and the impact it has on families and communities nationwide.

    Senate Appropriations Committee Ranking Member Barbara Mikulski (D- Md.) discussed the importance of funding health departments and agencies, adding that “the defense of the needs of our country are not only in the defense department.” Sen. Mikulski also raised concerns about not having enough resources to “meet the emerging needs of our country,” noting the need for the emergency supplemental funding for the Zika virus [see Washington Highlights, Feb. 26].

    Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee Chair Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.) mentioned that he will do his best to “create an architecture...in the next year that will put us on a path toward the Precision Medicine Initiative.” However, Sen. Alexander voiced concerns over the budget proposal of decreasing discretionary funding for NIH. He also noted that his committee is working towards “bipartisan consensus on mandatory funding,” adding he wants discretionary funding to increase on a sustained path, but would like to see mandatory funding “not be a substitute, but to be in addition to.”

    When asked by Sen. Dick Durbin (D- Ill.) how pain management is currently addressed, HHS Secretary Sylvia Burwell highlighted the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention prescriber guidelines, but also stated that when she asks a physician “how much time did you spend in training on pain, the answer is usually a very small number of hours, if at all.”

    In her testimony, Burwell highlighted how HHS’s response to Ebola has “helped unite global health leaders to prevent and respond to future outbreaks,” and that the administration’s request for emergency funding to combat Zika will “build on our ongoing preparedness efforts and will support essential strategies to combat this virus, such as rapidly expanding mosquito control programs; accelerating vaccine research and diagnostic development.”

    Burwell testified last week before the House Labor-HHS Appropriations Subcommittee to discuss the FY 2017 HHS budget request [see Washington Highlights, Feb. 26].