A bipartisan bill that increases funding for the National Institutes of Health and the battle against opioid abuse is considered a big step toward addressing some of the country's most pressing public health emergencies. But the bill also proposes cuts to a number of significant agencies and programs.
The bill (PDF) would cut $112 million from the Center for Disease Control and Prevention's National Center for Chronic Disease Prevention and Health Promotion, dropping it to $1.06 billion. The program, which provides support in tracking chronic diseases and their risk factors as well as offering help for patients to manage and prevent the onset of such conditions, has been key in reducing the rate of teen births and smoking.
Heart disease and diabetes prevention initiatives received the largest cut within the chronic disease program, with each seeing $30 million decreases.
“That seems to be, at least from the CDC's budget perspective, where the biggest hits are,” said Rich Hamburg, CEO for Trust for America's Health.
The bill also proposes eliminating the CDC's program, which aims to reduce racial and ethnic health disparities. The Health Resources and Services Administration would experience a drop of nearly $35 million, and the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality would see a decrease of $10 million.
The spending bill marks the first to pass with bipartisan support since 2009. NIH funding grew by $2 billion for the second straight year, for a total commitment of $34 billion. The bill also increases funding by $400 million to $1.39 billion for Alzheimer's disease research. Programs aimed at combating the opioid epidemic are increasing 93% to $261 million.
Dr. Georges Benjamin, executive director for the American Public Health Association in a statement said the bill was encouraging. "However this is not enough.”
He said not providing adequate support for certain areas and programs can negatively impact all public health.
“We can't expect to slow the spread of Zika, reduce health disparities or curb chronic disease when we continue to take money away from our nation's leading prevention and health promotion agencies,” Benjamin said. “Simply put, we need to increase—not decrease—investments in public health. The clock is ticking and lives are at stake.”
Debate still continues among lawmakers over how much funding should go toward efforts to fight the spread of the Zika virus, with the Senate's proposed $1.1 billion and the House's proposed $600 million falling short of President Barack Obama's call for $1.9 billion.
At an appropriations hearing scheduled for Thursday, Sens. Brian Schatz (R-La.) and Bill Cassidy (D-Hawaii) are expected to introduce a measure that calls for the creation of a permanent fund to respond to public health emergencies. A pot has existed since the early 1980s but has been underfunded for years.
Hamburg said the idea of putting permanent money away to address health emergencies was a good one, but that officials needed to work out exactly how it would implemented to maximize effectiveness.
“This is all hazardous preparedness, so we do need to have the boots on the ground and the resources that are necessary,” Hamburg said. “We need to figure out how to have the best process in place—it has to be thought out.”