With the August congressional recess looming, legislators on Capitol Hill worked to advance a number of key legislative priorities so that they could be well-positioned to finalize high-profile items before the end of the year. Most notably, both the House and Senate Appropriations Committees approved their chambers’ respective FY 2016 Labor-Health and Human-Services-Education (LHHS) Appropriations Bills. The annual LHHS bill provides funding for federal medical research activities, including the National Institutes of Health (NIH), and public health activities, such as the Health Resources and Services Administration.
Both the House and Senate FY 2016 LHHS Appropriations Bills provide meaningful funding increases for NIH and continue a recent trend of investing, significantly, in clinical and translational research. However, due to tight budget caps, other research and healthcare programs will have their budgets slashed or eliminated altogether. The spending bills also include a number of controversial policy riders, which the White House has indicated it will veto if they reach the president’s desk as currently written. There is growing optimism that a budget deal is possible this fall, which will allow funding to be added to the FY 2016 appropriations bills.
Congress also continued work on two of the patient community’s core legislative priorities; the 21st Century Cures Act
(H.R. 6) and the Ensuring Access to Clinical Trials Act
(S. 139/H.R. 209). The House passed their version of Cures
legislation, which ended up being a mixed-bag for research and patient care advocates. New provisions to stimulate treatment development and ease regulatory burden when bringing innovative products to market are coupled with provisions that potentially undermine patient safety by relaxing data requirements at the Food and Drug Administration (FDA). Further, H.R. 6 does not provide additional funding for NIH and FDA above current levels to allow the agencies to absorb new mandates and activities. The Senate has indicated it will not take up H.R. 6 as the Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions Committee works on their own legislation, which is expected to be released later this year. Once the House and Senate bills are available, it will be important to advocate for the best provisions from each measure as legislators work to craft a final, compromise measure.
The Senate recently passed their Clinical Trials
bill, S. 139, by unanimous consent. This legislation seeks to extend an incentive program for patients to participate in clinical trials by exempting up to $2,000 in compensation from the calculation for Social Security Insurance or Medicaid. A companion bill in the House, H.R. 209, has been gathering cosponsors, but has yet to move forward. With the current benefit set to expire in October, action is expected in the House soon after Congress reconvenes in September.
AANEM advocates are working with our congressional champions and other stakeholders to secure a meeting with key staff at the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services to discuss opportunities to improve quality of care and access to care in EDX medicine.