President Barack Obama this week presented his last budget proposal to Congress for fiscal year 2017 and it includes a $22 million funding boost for the Office of the National Coordinator for Health IT (ONC) to support health IT interoperability programs and $51 million for healthcare cybersecurity efforts.
President Obama unveiled Tuesday a record $4.1 trillion FY 2017 budget proposal and the budget very quickly garnered strong criticism from Republicans in Congress, specifically over spending increases.
According to a U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) Budget in Brief, the White House has proposed raising the HHS budget to $1.1 trillion, which includes across-the-board increases to support healthcare initiatives. The proposed budget also includes $309 million for HHS to continue scaling up the Precision Medicine Initiative, with the National Institutes of Health (NIH) receiving $300 million to support development of a research cohort of a million or more individuals, $4 million to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to develop regulatory pathways for new medical technologies and $4 million to ONC to facilitate the development of interoperable and secure health data exchange systems.
As part of Vice President Joe Biden’s cancer “moonshot” initiative, the proposed budget provides an increase of $755 million toward cancer research and treatments, with $680 million going to the NIH “to expand clinical trials for health disparity populations, pursue new vaccine technology and fund exceptional opportunities in cancer research ” and $75 million to the FDA to “develop the regulatory pathways for new technologies, ensure quality systems for trials and facilitate the sharing of important data across government, academia and industry,” according to the HHS budget briefing document.
ONC is the lead agency charged with formulating the federal government’s health IT strategy and coordinating federal health IT policies, standards, programs and investments. President Obama’s FY 2017 budget proposed $82 million in funding for ONC, an increase of $22 million from the $60 million allotted last year, and proposed new authorities for ONC to strengthen patient safety and quality of care through nationwide advancement of interoperability, reliability and usability of health IT.
The budget includes four legislative proposals: enable ONC to establish health IT governance certification, give ONC more authority to prohibit information blocking, grant ONC the authority to require more transparency from health IT vendors and provide funding to establish a Health IT Safety Collaborative.
“By combating information blocking, expanding transparency, developing a public-private partnership between health IT stakeholders and implementing governance activities that establish standards for health IT entities, ONC will work towards a fully-integrated health IT infrastructure that protects and empowers patients,” the HHS budget briefing document stated.
The HHS cybersecurity program would receive $51 million in funding, which would be used to improve efficiencies in security tools and deploy enterprise-wide solutions that decrease the department’s vulnerability against cybersecurity threats, according to the HHS budget briefing document.
The HHS Office of Civil Rights’ (OCR) proposed funding is $43 million, a $4 million increase from FY 2016. Funding for OCR would go toward support of the audit program, which was mandated by the Health Information Technology for Economic and Clinical Health (HITECH) Act and to support modernization of the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA).
The proposed budget also calls for expanding the ability of Medicare Advantage plans to deliver services via telehealth and enable rural health clinics and federally qualified health centers to qualify as originating telehealth sites under Medicare. According to the Obama administration, this would generate $160 million in savings over 10 years. And, the budget also proposed expanding the Medicare and Medicaid Electronic Health Record Incentive Programs to include certain behavioral health providers, such as psychiatric hospitals, community mental health centers, residential and outpatient mental health and substance use disorder treatment clinics.
The Obama administration’s proposed budget also included several funding increases to support programs tied to shifting healthcare to value-based payment models. The White House is proposing a $24 million funding increase for health services research at the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality (AHRQ). “The Budget invests $9 million in a new AHRQ project to better coordinate care for patients with multiple chronic conditions by developing and piloting tools based on integrated care plans, a new model that has demonstrated potential to make treatment regiments more comprehensive, responsive and easier to adopt,” the HHS document stated.
Addressing the rising cost of pharmaceuticals, the administration proposed several measures including allowing the HHS secretary to negotiate with pharmaceutical companies on prices for biologics and particularly expensive drugs.