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ONC Avoids 2018 Budget Cuts in New Spending Bill

March 22, 2018
by Rajiv Leventhal
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The Office of the National Coordinator for Health IT’s (ONC) funding for 2018 will hold steady through September, at $60 million, as part of a House spending bill that was passed on Thursday.

The House voted to pass a roughly $1.3 trillion spending bill to fund the government through Sept. 30 of this year, giving the Senate just over 24 hours to pass the bill and avoid a second government shutdown this year.

The 2,232-page spending bill easily passed in the House, and for health IT observers, one of the most noteworthy takeaways was that ONC—the health IT arm of the federal government—will not be experience a major funding cut as was originally expected.

Comparatively, President Trump’s fiscal year 2019 budget that he released in February called for a $22 million reduction in funding for ONC. Similarly, last year, Trump’s administration called for a $22 million cut to ONC’s funding as well as a reduction of 26 staff members. Nonetheless, Trump’s $22 million proposed cut to ONC funding never actually went through last year; the health IT agency’s budget has remained at $60 million.

In defense of ONC, health IT stakeholders have been active in trying to make sure that the department’s budget not see cuts. To this end, the Pew Charitable Trusts and the American Medical Informatics Association (AMIA) wrote to the leaders of the House and Senate subcommittees overseeing ONC last year, urging them to ensure that the agency had sufficient funding to carry out its work under the 21st Century Cures Act, including an EHR (electronic health record) reporting program that would give providers more information on how those products exchange data and their impact on clinician workflow.

What’s more, aside from ONC, the spending bill also keeps the Office for Civil Rights (OCR) funding flat, as opposed to that agency receiving an $8 million cut to its budget, from $39 million down to $31 million, as previously requested by Trump. Funding for the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality (AHRQ) will also stay flat, per this new spending bill.

In a statement released today, AMIA said that it “applauds the bipartisan work of Congress to deliver a comprehensive funding bill that will enable data-driven discovery and accelerate healthcare’s transformation through informatics. By fully funding ONC, AHRQ, CDC, FDA, and by providing a $3 billion boost to the NIH, this spending package makes good on the promises articulated in the 21st Century Cures Act.”

The statement continued, “While there continues to be a tug-of-war between White House and Congressional funding and policy priorities, this budget will give HHS agencies and offices a few months of consistency. The need to address ongoing challenges related to interoperability, patient data access, and health IT safety continues to grow as more data about more individuals moves across more systems for care and research. We also have numerous emerging and promising areas to explore, including real-world evidence, data science, machine learning, and cryptography.”

The Senate is expected to vote on the bill before Friday.

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