Senate health appropriators proposed a $2.3 billion hike in HHS funding for this year in a bill that marks a step toward regular order for appropriations. The plan emphasizes telemedicine for rural areas and adds almost $150 million in funds to battle the opioid epidemic.
The Senate's $179.3 billion proposal, which earmarks $90.1 billion for HHS, also directly contradicts the White House's demand earlier this year for a more than 20% cut to HHS' discretionary funding for fiscal 2019, and follows the upper chamber's rejection last week of President Donald Trump's request for $15 billion in rescissions. The bill exceeds the House health spending measure, set for a Thursday markup, by more than $2 billion.
The measure's biggest focus is the opioid epidemic, allocating $1.5 billion to replace the state response grants that 21st Century Cures initiated and are due to run out next spring.
In Tuesday's debate over the bill, Sen. Roy Blunt (R-Mo.), chairman of the Labor, Health and Human Services, Education, and Related Agencies Subcommittee, emphasized the $1.5 billion extension of flexible funding for states to curb the opioid epidemic and another boost for the National Institutes of Health.
"Since CURES funding ended, we made certain this bill replaced the $500 billion in funding for states that would be lost," Blunt said.
Total funding is $3.7 billion, which includes $200 million for community health centers and $120 million for rural communities. Community behavioral health centers would receive $150 million in total funding, or $50 million increase.
On rural health, a pressing topic on Capitol Hill lately as rural hospitals and providers continue to struggle with closures and barriers, the Senate is highlighting the role of telehealth with a $25.5 million fund for existing programs. This is $2 million more than was appropriated for fiscal 2018.