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Senate Appropriators Examine FY 2016 HHS Funding Request

April 24, 2015—Several senators emphasized the need for greater investment in the National Institutes of Health (NIH) when Secretary of Health and Human Services (HHS) Sylvia Burwell April 23 testified before the Senate Labor-HHS-Education Appropriations Subcommittee about the department’s fiscal year (FY) 2016 budget proposal.

In his opening remarks, Subcommittee Chair Roy Blunt (R-Mo.) described “limited resources” and the need for funding to be “targeted to programs that have shown proven and effective results” or “effective result potential.” He praised the administration’s proposal to boost NIH funding by $1 billion, noting that Congress had once come together to double funding for the agency.

“But once we got to the doubling goal that seemed to be the place to stop,” he said. “I know that Dr. Collins and you and me and others don’t want that same experience to repeat itself, that we set a worthy goal but don’t understand the importance of having that goal extend beyond achieving the first marker in the goal.”

Sen. Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) echoed the need for a sustained commitment to funding growth for medical research, stating, “I think it is time for us to step up as a Congress and do something truly bipartisan the American people will applaud and say we’re going to start a commitment of five percent plus inflation to key medical research, and we’re going to do it on a bipartisan basis, no ands, ifs, or buts about it.” He continued that any relief from spending limits for the Department of Defense should be matched by increases to non-defense spending as well.

Listing several health care investments in the administration’s budget proposal, Ranking Member Patty Murray (D-Wash.) urged lawmakers to build on the deal she brokered two years ago with Rep. Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) to ease sequestration spending limits. Secretary Burwell’s testimony reinforced the sentiment, pointing to the president’s proposal to increase investments in both defense and non-defense priorities above the existing spending caps in FY 2016.

Sen. Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.) referenced his work with Sen. Murray in their roles as chair and ranking member, respectively, of the authorizing Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions (HELP) committee to examine innovation in medical research and drug development. He reiterated his concern with a finding from the National Academy of Sciences that federally-supported researchers spend 42 percent of their time on administrative tasks, suggesting that he would be pursuing legislation to ease the regulatory burden on researchers.

Secretary Burwell also fielded questions from Sen. James Lankford (R-Okla.), who raised concerns about the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) Recovery Audit Contractor (RAC) audit process and pending reforms. Responding to his question of “what’s next” in addressing problems, Secretary Burwell noted that the department has implemented some administrative changes, but that Congress has imposed constraints on the agency’s ability to go forward with RACs and that there are contracting challenges.

She also indicated, “The place where we believe we need some help from the Congress, and have had these conversations across a number of committees, [is] in that backlog process.”

Among other topics raised at the hearing, senators also inquired about contraceptive coverage under the Affordable Care Act (ACA, P.L. 111-148 and P.L. 111-152), proposals to fight antibacterial resistance, and the administration’s efforts to address substance abuse. Regarding efforts to curb opioid addiction, Secretary Burwell suggested that Congress should help ensure that incoming physicians are trained to implement guidelines being developed by HHS.


Tannaz Rasouli
Sr. Director, Public Policy & Strategic Outreach
Telephone: 202-828-0525


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