The appropriations process is in full swing, with the House Appropriations Committee reporting out several bills for floor consideration. So far, it’s good news for health services research!
On May 8, the House Appropriations Committee reported out its Labor, Health and Human Services, Education and Related Agencies (Labor-HHS) spending bill for fiscal 2020 on a party line vote of 30-23. The bill includes funding increases for several of AcademyHealth’s advocacy priorities. First and foremost, the Committee includes $358.2 million for the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality (AHRQ). If enacted, this $20.2 million increase would be AHRQ’s single largest increase in more than a decade, and the third consecutive annual increase. While this increase is less than what we and the Friends of AHRQ coalition had requested, AcademyHealth is pleased that this bill offers a significant and a positive indicator that lawmakers increasingly see the value of the agency’s work to improve health and health care delivery. Just this year, nearly 50 representatives and 20 senators signed on in support of the Friends of AHRQ’s funding request for the agency.
The bill also includes $41.1 billion for the National Institutes of Health—a $2 billion increase over the comparable current level, continuing the practice of providing NIH $2 billion increases annually. Of note, the bill provides an across-the-board increase of approximately five percent for all Institutes and Centers, so that all receive meaningful increases.
The Committee provides the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) $8.2 billion, a $921 million increase over current levels. Within this total, the bill includes flat funding for the National Center for Health Statistics (NCHS), but provides the possibility for new funding through a new, $100 million, multi-year initiative to modernize federal, state, and local public health data and IT systems to enhance public health surveillance. The Committee directs CDC to develop an implementation plan for this modernization, as well as an “innovation strategy” for NCHS surveys.
Also of potential interest to our members in the public health arena, the Committee provides $50 million to support gun violence research—$25 million at the CDC and $25 million at the NIH. This funding is the first appropriation in decades to develop an evidence base on the gun violence epidemic.
The Labor-HHS bill is not the only good news for health services research this week. On May 9, the House Appropriations Committee also reported out (31-21) the Military Construction-Veterans Affairs (MilCon-VA) appropriations bill, which includes $840 million for VA’s medical, rehabilitative, and health services research—a $61 million increase that is consistent with the Friends of VA Medical Research (FOVA) request (AcademyHealth sits on the FOVA Executive Committee). The accompanying report to the bill notes that “the health services research program provides unique opportunities to improve the effectiveness and efficiency of the healthcare delivery system.”
Of course, this is just the beginning of the process and several actions will need to occur for any of these numbers to become a reality. First, Congress and the White House will need to work in a bipartisan fashion to once again raise the austere spending caps and avoid a $55 billion cliff for domestic programs when the existing Bipartisan Budget Act expires at the end of fiscal 2019. The Senate will need to move its appropriations bills, and then negotiate final funding levels with the House. It’s probable that the Republican controlled Senate will have some different priorities than the Democratic-controlled House.
Nevertheless, the House bills are a positive sign that lawmakers’ commitment to data and science—including health services research—is strong and should be celebrated. AcademyHealth’s advocacy efforts, supported by your member dues, are making an impact.