House and Senate negotiators on Thursday reached an agreement on a fiscal year (FY) 2019 spending bill that would allocate $90.5 billion for HHS, putting Congress on track to pass appropriations ahead of the Sept. 30 deadline for the first time in nearly a decade, the Washington Post reports.
House and Senate lawmakers plan to vote on a trio of FY 2019 spending bills in the coming weeks. Lawmakers must pass the bills—or, alternatively, a short-term spending resolution—before the new budget year begins Oct. 1 to avoid a federal shutdown.
Congress sent the first of the three spending bills to President Trump Thursday. That $147 billion package includes $97.1 billion for Veterans Affairs and military construction, including a $1.1 billion funding bump to cover the cost of the new VA Mission Act for one year. The bill consolidates VA programs allowing veterans to see private doctors outside the VA system. However, lawmakers have grappled over how to fund the program.
House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) on Thursday said, "This represents a return to our most basic responsibility around here: passing appropriation bills." He added, "This is the first time since 2007 that the House and the Senate will send multiple appropriation measures to the president's desk on time."
Inside the HHS spending bill deal
Congress next will consider the FY 2019 spending package for HHS, the Department of Defense, and the education and labor departments.
Under the deal struck Thursday, HHS would get $90.5 billion for FY 2019, which represents a $2.3 billion increase over FY 2018. That funding includes $6.7 billion for programs targeting the opioid misuse epidemic.
For example, the opioid-related funding includes $1.5 billion for state response grants, $130 million for rural communities, and $500 million for research and development of non-opioid alternatives for pain management. According to Modern Healthcare, the research funding is in addition to the $774 million in base funding allocated to NIH for similar research.
CDC would receive $476 million to launch a public awareness campaign on opioid misuse and to work on overdose prevention and surveillance. The bill also authorizes a $5 million initiative to fight infectious diseases related to opioid misuse and $2 million to gather more data on neonatal abstinence syndrome.
In addition, community health centers would receive $200 million for behavioral and mental health and addiction treatment services, up $65 million from FY 2018.
Negotiators notably did not include an amendment by Senate Minority Whip Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) and Sen. Charles Grassley (R-Iowa) that would have required drugmakers to disclose prices in their television ads. The price disclosure requirement passed the Senate last month and was included Trump's drug pricing blueprint. According to The Hill, lawmakers and aides said negotiators dropped the amendment over concerns it could jeopardize the spending bill's passage in the House.
Lawmakers also reached a deal on a short-term spending bill that would fund the federal government through Dec. 7. Lawmakers plan to attach the HHS spending package to the short-term bill as a preventive measure in case they run into problems over negotiations for controversial topics, such as funding for Trump's border wall [ST2] (Luthi, Modern Healthcare, 9/13; Andrews, Wall Street Journal, 9/13; Daly, AP/Washington Post, 9/13; Werner, Washington Post, 9/12; Leonard, Washington Examiner, 9/13; Sullivan, The Hill, 9/13).
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