Senate advances $162B health spending bill: 10 things to know

Emily Rappleye (Twitter) -

A Senate subcommittee approved a $162 billion health spending bill Tuesday that will deliver funding increases to opioid abuse treatment, precision medicine and Medicare fraud programs, among others.

Here are 10 things to know about the bill, which is the first bipartisan Senate Labor-HHS bill to gain approval since 2009.

1. The funding bill lays out fiscal year 2017 discretionary spending for the Departments of Labor, Education and HHS. Its $161.9 billion price tag is actually $270 million below the fiscal 2016 budget and $2 billion below President Barack Obama's request. Despite budget cuts, the bill increases funding for a number of healthcare programs, as outlined below.

2. The bill allots HHS $76.9 billion — which is a $1.4 billion increase over last year.
This includes funds for NIH, opioid abuse programs, community health centers, rural healthcare, cancer prevention and control, immunizations, mental health and more.

3. The NIH would receive a $2 billion boost, putting its total budget at $34 billion. This budget includes $1.4 billion for Alzheimer's research, $463 million to help fight antibiotic-resistant bacteria, $300 million for precision medicine and $250 million to map the human brain, among other programs.

4. The bill increases funding to programs that combat opioid abuse by 93 percent. The CDC, Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration and Health Resources and Services Administration programs will receive $261 million in funds. Within that, the bill will inject a $28 million boost for a CDC prescription drug overdose program; a $49 million increase to SAMHSA for treatment, prevention and overdose reversal; and $50 million for Community Health Center treatment and prevention.

5. The Office of Medicare Hearings and Appeals will receive a $5 million increase in funding over fiscal year 2016. These funds total $112.4 million. The bill also has a $1.96 billion in cap adjustment funding to prevent fraud and abuse in the Medicare, Medicaid and Social Security programs.

6. Rural healthcare also got an increase in the fiscal year 2017 bill of $3 million. Its funding is $152.6 million, which will be channeled toward efforts that help patients access care in rural communities.

7. The bill also increases funds to a pair of programs that address threats to public health. These include Project BioShield and the Public Health Emergency Preparedness programs. Project BioShield will receive $510 million — which exceeds President Obama's request by $160 million — to procure medical countermeasures against chemical, biological, radiological and nuclear threats. PHEP would receive $660 million, which goes to the states to fund preparation, response and recovery resources for public health threats.

8. The bill continues to block funds to the ACA's risk corridor program, keeping the program budget neutral. The three-year risk corridor program — which aims to temporarily level the financial playing field for payers taking on newly insured, costlier patients — fell short by more than $2.5 billion in its first year. Insurers whose premiums exceeded their claims by a set amount paid $362 million into the program. Those whose claims exceeded their premiums called for $2.87 billion in payments. Because the health spending bill prohibits payments into this program it saved $2.5 billion from being transferred out of HHS programs to help pay insurers, according to the subcommittee.

9. The bill eliminates funding for the Independent Payment Advisory Board. This 15-member board was created under the ACA to find ways to cut Medicare spending if it exceeds a certain threshold. The controversial board was never set up, and many Republicans called it a "death panel," saying it would lead to rationing of Medicare.

10. The bill will now be considered on Thursday by the full Senate Appropriations Committee. The bill could be stopped or slowed here, but the bill largely focuses on bipartisan health, labor and education issues.


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