Bipartisan Spending Deal Calls for Increases to NIH Funding, Opioid Abuse Programs

Lawmakers averted the looming threat of a government shutdown when they forged a bipartisan deal to fund the government for the rest of the fiscal year, which ends October 2017. The agreement includes substantial funding boosts for key health initiatives.

Lawmakers averted the looming threat of a government shutdown when they forged a bipartisan deal to fund the government for the rest of the fiscal year, or until October 2017. The agreement includes substantial funding boosts for key health initiatives.

A summary of the appropriations bill indicates that, overall, HHS will receive $77.7 billion in funding, which is $2.7 billion higher than in the 2016 fiscal year. The National Institutes of Health (NIH) will get a $2 billion increase from last year to bring its funding to $34.1 billion. Several NIH initiatives were selected to receive increases in funding, including Alzheimer’s disease research efforts, the National Cancer Institute, the Precision Medicine Initiative, and the Combat Antibiotic Resistant Bacteria initiative.

The boosts in funding to NIH were especially notable in light of President Donald Trump’s budget “blueprint” proposal that would cut $5.8 billion from the NIH budget in 2018, an 18% reduction. The New York Times reported that Trump later “told Congress that he wanted to cut spending at the NIH by $1.2 billion in the current fiscal year, mostly by reducing research grants.”

Rural health programs were another winner in the new bill, as they will receive a $6.5 million increase over 2016 funding levels to invest in rural hospitals and telehealth efforts. The bill also calls for additional funding to mental health programs, including the Zero Suicide Initiative. Community health centers will receive about $1.5 billion, maintaining the funding levels from last year. Additionally, the spending deal agreed to permanently extend healthcare benefits for retired coal miners.

The bill specifies a 430% increase in funding for efforts to combat opioid abuse, including boosts of about $50 million each for CDC opioid abuse programs, Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration treatment and overdose reversal efforts, and treatment and prevention in community health centers. The spending deal includes $852 million in funds as agreed on in the bipartisan 21st Century Cures Act, $500 million of which will be used to battle the opioid epidemic.

The Affordable Care Act (ACA) will not be receiving additional funding under this agreement. Instead, the bill calls for more transparency regarding the healthcare law, including requirements to publish all ACA-related spending by category as well as data “on the number of employees, contractors, and activities involved in implementing, administering, or enforcing provisions of the ACA.”

Democrat lawmakers praised the bill, and Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-New York, said in a statement that it “increases investments in programs that the middle-class relies on, like medical research, education and infrastructure.”

There were no official statements from majority leader Senator Mitch McConnell, R-Kentucky, or House speaker Paul Ryan, R-Wisconsin, but a spokeswoman for the House Appropriations Committee said that the deal would “move the needle forward on conservative priorities and will ensure that the essential functions of the federal government are maintained.”

Legislators are expected to vote to approve the total spending package early this week, according to the Washington Post.