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  • Washington Highlights

    Senate Panel Questions Cuts to NIH, Other HHS Programs in President’s FY 2018 Budget

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

    In a lively June 15 hearing, members of the Senate Appropriations Subcommittee on Labor, Health and Human Services, Education, and Related Agencies (Labor-HHS) questioned Health and Human Services (HHS) Secretary Tom Price, MD, on the president’s fiscal year (FY) 2018 budget proposal.

    Secretary Price, through his opening testimony, explained that the president’s budget “does not confuse government spending with government success. The president understands that setting a budget is about more than establishing topline spending levels. Done properly, the budgeting process is an exercise in reforming our federal programs to make sure they actually work—so they do their job and use tax dollars wisely.” In an effort to explain the cuts proposed in the FY 2018 budget, he stated, “The problem with many of our federal programs is not that they are too expensive or too underfunded. The real problem is that they do not work – they fail the very people they are meant to help.”

    Members of the subcommittee disagreed with proposed cuts to the National Institutes of Health (NIH) [see Washington Highlights, May 26]. In his opening statement, Subcommittee Chair Roy Blunt (R-Mo.) stated his firm position saying, “I want to be clear that, as chairman of this Subcommittee, I will not write a bill this year that reduces funding for the National Institutes of Health.” Referring to recent funding increases in FY 2016 and FY 2017, the chairman stated that the committee has made “NIH a priority by providing back to back funding increases” and that he “will not erase the gains we have made over the past two years.”

    After congratulating Dr. Price for reappointing Francis Collins, MD, PhD, director of the NIH, Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions Committee Chair Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.) joined his colleagues in support of increasing funding at the NIH saying, “my goal is not to decrease funding, but to continue to increase it to support medical miracles.”

    The subcommittee expressed support for NIH in a strong bipartisan fashion. The Labor-HHS Subcommittee Ranking Member Patty Murray (D- Wash.), the full Appropriations Committee Ranking Member Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.), and Democratic Whip Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) each expressed their concern with the 21 percent cut to NIH. Additionally, Sen. Jerry Moran (R-Kan.) highlighted the long-term cost reduction impact of NIH saying, “If you’re fiscally conservative, this is a good investment because it will save us in our health care costs. If we could find the delay in onset of Alzheimer’s, there’s billions of dollars that will not be spent.”

    Multiple senators raised the topic of opioid abuse during the hearing. Sens. Capito (R-W.Va.) and Shaheen (D-N.H.), representing states that have been significantly impacted by the opioid epidemic, asked Secretary Price about the administration’s efforts to address the opioid epidemic. Secretary Price responded by highlighting the department’s five-part strategy, which includes: improving access to treatment; targeting availability and distribution of overdose-reversing drugs; improving public health data and reporting; providing support for research on pain and addiction; and advancing better practices for pain management.

    Members of the subcommittee also pressed Secretary Price on the status of health care reform, which has been a contentious topic at previous hearings [see Washington Highlights, June 9].