Congress Protects Healthcare — For Now

Congress’ fiscal 2017 spending bill boosts funding for critical medical research and health programs. But will they do the same for fiscal 2018?

Praise for Congress is a rarity nowadays. But members do deserve thanks for doing something this week that has the potential to benefit millions of Americans: Boosting funding for the National Institutes of Health.

Under a spending deal brokered Sunday night, the NIH will get $2 billion more in fiscal year 2017 than it did in fiscal 2016. If that sounds like a lot more money, it’s because it is.

What makes the NIH funding increase even more remarkable is that it came despite President Trump’s proposal to cut more than $1 billion from the agency.

NIH’s Role in Medical Research

Appropriate funding of the NIH is critical to ensure research is continued that can lead to medical breakthroughs. One of the biggest beneficiaries of the additional money is Alzheimer’s disease research. There are currently no drugs that can prevent the spread of the memory-robbing disease – current medications only treat symptoms – so the extra $400 million towards research in this area will be well spent.

The National Cancer Institute is getting a boost of almost $600 million for research. New cancer treatments are critical as many of the therapies available today only marginally improve survival and come with a host of side effects.

The additional money for health doesn’t stop with the NIH. The bipartisan deal also includes $801 million to combat opioid abuse, a whopping 430% increase compared to what was appropriated in fiscal 2016. These funds will be split between the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA), and Health Resources and Services Administration (HRSA).

Fighting the Opioid Epidemic

As regular visitors to MedShadow are aware, the US is in the middle of an opioid epidemic, caused in large part to abuse of prescription opioid drugs. Sales of prescription opioids quadrupled between 1999 and 2014, according to the CDC. And during that period, more than 165,000 lives were lost due to prescription opioid abuse.

Opioid abuse programs run by the CDC, treatment and overdose reversal programs at SAMHSA and treatment and prevention programs run by community health centers will all benefit from millions more in funding.

While the spending bill is certainly something to applaud, the celebration may be short lived. The bill only funds these and other government programs through the end of September. Funding beyond that is still up in the air.

Given that President Trump’s proposed 2018 budget calls for slashing the NIH’s budget by $6 billion – about 20% of its current annual budget – Congress will again have an important decision to make. Let’s hope they again muster the courage to do what is right and keep funding for critical health and medical research and programs intact.

Jonathan Block

Jonathan Block

Jonathan Block is a freelance writer and former MedShadow content editor. He has been an editor and writer for multiple pharmaceutical, health and medical publications, including BioCentury, The Pink Sheet, Modern Healthcare, Health Plan Week and Psychiatry Advisor. He holds a BA from Tufts University and is earning an MPH with a focus on health policy from the CUNY Graduate School of Public Health & Health Policy.

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