The U.S. House of Representatives passed a $99.4 billion HHS appropriations bill with several amendments including reversing a longtime ban on developing a national patient identifier, money for hospital emergency departments dealing with opioid overdoses, and a nod to the anti-vaccination controversy.
For decades, Congress has prohibited HHS from funding the development or promotion of any national program where patients would receive permanent, unique identification numbers.
Lawmakers previously argued such a program could violate privacy issues or raise security concerns, while the medical community and insurers claimed the ban kept them from properly matching patients with the correct medical information.
The measure by Rep. Bill Foster (D-Ill.) to overturn the ban passed late Wednesday with the first tranche of amendments to the appropriations bill.
Several amendments focused on the opioid epidemic, including a measure by Reps. David McKinley (R-W.Va.) and Mike Doyle (D-Pa.) that would deploy $10 million to set up a coordinated-care model for overdose cases in emergency rooms, according to a provision of last year's major opioid legislation.
Others focused on the impact of addiction on children, with one measure to shift $2 million for research on neonatal abstinence syndrome. A second boosts funding for the National Survey of Child and Adolescent Well-Being by another $2 million to look at children affected by a parent's addiction.
Rep. Adam Schiff (D-Calif.) secured his amendment that essentially tells HHS to prioritize its national campaign to encourage vaccines and counter the anti-vaccination rhetoric that has increasingly raised worry in Washington amid measles outbreaks across the country.
The full legislation incorporates provisions to boost rural hospitals and rural healthcare access.
The final report adds $10 million to the previous year's budget for state surveys and certification reviews of nursing homes, home health agencies and hospice facilities.
It also increases funding for the Hospital Preparedness Program by $52 million. The initiative coordinates state, local and territorial health departments to get ready for patient surges during public health emergencies.
House appropriators suggested that federal agencies should follow the enhanced reimbursement model offered for the academic health centers that treated Americans with Ebola for other serious communicable diseases.
"Given the significant cost of preparedness and care associated with any serious communicable disease, when any federal agency refers any highly contagious individuals to a designated treatment center, the committee encourages the use of the previously developed reimbursement model for Ebola to be applied," appropriators wrote in the bill.
While the House wrapped up a chunk of its appropriations work this week, Senate appropriators have yet to mark up their own bill as Congress prepares for a battle to lift the spending caps and then the debt ceiling later this year.