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Senate Appropriations Bill Calls for Boost in NIH Funding

September 8, 2017
by Rajiv Leventhal
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The Senate Committee on Appropriations has approved a 2018 budget bill that aims to push forward investments in the National Institutes of Health (NIH)—an agency which President Trump previously hoped to cut funding from.

According to a committee summary, the bill provides $36.1 billion for NIH, an increase of $2 billion from last year’s level and $9.5 billion above President’s request. The bill passed 29 to 2 earlier this week.

The increase includes an additional $414 million for Alzheimer’s disease research for a total of $1.8 billion.  It also includes increases of $140 million for the BRAIN Initiative and $50 million for research to combat antimicrobial resistance.  It additionally includes $290 million for the “All of Us” precision medicine study, a $60 million increase from fiscal year 2017. The bill “rejects the president’s arbitrary proposal to dramatically cut facilities and administrative support, and includes language to ensure NIH adheres to its current policies for calculating these costs,” according to the summary.

Overall, the bill includes $79.4 billion in discretionary funding for the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), a $1.7 billion increase above FY2017, not including cap adjustments.

What’s more, a report from Politico’s morning eHealth brief noted that the Senate’s bill “keeps AHRQ, ONC, and OCR funding steady … which means we’ll have a fight on our hands — or some deal making — whenever the two chambers of Congress reconcile the bill.” Indeed, the House Appropriations Committee’s draft funding bill for 2018, which it released in July, 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.

Comparatively, that House Appropriations Committee bill included a total of $77.6 billion for HHS, of which $35.2 billion was allocated for NIH.

Trump’s budget proposal from May also called for the Agency for Healthcare Quality and Research (AHRQ) to essentially be eliminated, with the majority of its 2017 budget folded into NIH for next year. While NIH would receive $272 to perform many of the same initiatives that AHRQ has in the past, that figure would still be down about 18 percent, per Trump’s budget request.

Trump also called for a $6 billion cut to HHS’ Office of Civil Rights (OCR), a key department in the industry’s ongoing cybersecurity battle.

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 some pundits attest that carrying out these functions could become very difficult with a slashed budget.

Regarding this Senate committee bill, U.S. Senator Roy Blunt (R-Mo.), chairman of the Senate Labor-HHS Appropriations Subcommittee, said in a statement, “I’m proud that we were able to secure another $2 billion increase for the National Institutes of Health, which will provide doctors and researchers additional resources to help them treat and cure our most deadly and costliest diseases.”

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