The House Appropriations Committee released a draft funding bill for 2018 that included a $22 million budget cut for the Office of the National Coordinator for Health IT (ONC)—a number that is right in line with President Trump’s budget request that he released in May.
The bill would slash ONC’s budget from $60 million, a figure that has held steady for years under the Obama Administration, down to $38.3 million—a reduction of nearly 37 percent to the health IT agency’s budget. In Trump’s 2018 budget request, the president also proposed that ONC’s staff would be cut by 26 members next year, from 188 down to 162. The staff increased by 14 from 2016 to 2017.
The House Appropriations Committee released the fiscal year 2018 Labor, Health and Human Services, Education funding bill on Wednesday with a full committee markup expected next week.
What’s more the draft bill includes a total of $77.6 billion for the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), a decrease of $542 million below last year’s enacted level and $14.5 billion above the President’s budget request. Within this amount, the bill includes a total of $35.2 billion for the National Institutes of Health (NIH), an increase of $1.1 billion above the fiscal year 2017 enacted level and $8.6 billion above the President’s budget request.
Many stakeholders and health IT association groups fear that the cuts to ONC specifically could have an undesirable impact on the industry. The 21st Century Cures Act, passed last December, calls on ONC to perform a number of responsibilities related wide-ranging responsibilities to improve interoperability. But pundits attest that carrying out these functions could become very difficult with a slashed budget.
However, not everyone feels the same way. In a statement this week following the release of the draft bill, Health IT Now Executive Director Joel White said, “The funding reduction will help ONC refocus on core priorities. In recent years, ONC has extended its reach beyond its Congressionally-defined parameters. It is past time for an honest assessment of the role that ONC plays in federal programs and in today’s marketplace. This funding sets the table for such a discussion. The adjusted spending levels present an opportunity for the agency to return to a laser focus on interoperability and implementation of the 21st Century Cures Act.”
White continued his statement, touching on the NIH funding as well: “The legislation’s much-needed $1.1 billion increase in NIH funding will make great strides toward continued implementation of the Precision Medicine Initiative and other health IT priorities. Patients and providers will rest easier knowing that, in this time of budget setbacks and uncertainty, the lifesaving and irreplaceable work of NIH will not be left on the cutting room floor.”
Just a few months ago, Congress passed a funding package for FY2017 that included a $2 billion increase to NIH’s budget, $120 million of which will go toward the agency’s work on the Precision Medicine Initiative. This signaled that Congress would be against Trump’s desire to cut NIH funding, a sentiment that was reiterated in this bill.
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