Government Funding Deal: Some Wins for Telehealth

With the prospect of a federal government shutdown looming over Washington, and the rest of the country, this past weekend, a bipartisan group of House and Senate lawmakers finally reached a deal to fund the government until September 30 of this year. Notably, not only would the spending measure, if passed, mean that the government will continue operating (arguably a win for all Americans), but it also contains several provisions that would benefit telehealth and health IT programs. Specifically, as Fierce Healthcare and others first reported, the budget deal, which will likely be voted on in the House on Wednesday and the Senate on Friday, would provide increased funding for the National Institutes of Health (NIH) and for rural telehealth programs.

Included in the $1.1 trillion spending agreement, which earned praise from leaders in both parties, is a $2 billion increase in funding for the NIH. Among that: $320 million for the agency’s Precision Medicine Initiative, which is dedicated to advancing personalized medicine. Other NIH programs seeing boosts in funding include the National Cancer Institute, Alzheimer’s Disease research programs, the BRAIN Initiative (which seeks to map the human brain), and research programs focused on combating antibiotic-resistant bacteria. Also in the bill: $18.5 million ($1.5 million more than current levels) for rural telehealth programs, which are part of an overall initiative designed to alleviate some of “the obstacles faced by patients and providers in rural communities,” per a summary of the draft legislation. For its part, the Office of the National Coordinator for Health IT (ONC) at the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) would receive flat funding ($60 million). Finally, HHS itself gets an overall increase in funding.

The agreement could help allay some of the fears that advocates had after President Donald Trump released his budget proposal, which included draconian cuts to a number of health care-related programs, earlier this year. As we noted last week, organizations were concerned about the potential chilling effect that cuts to the NIH (which President Trump suggested slashing by more than $1 billion), HHS, and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) would have on scientific and medical research. But the flat funding level for ONC, as Fierce Healthcare’s Evan Sweeney notes, “isn’t likely to alleviate concerns expressed by industry representatives.” AHIMA, for its part, recently wrote to appropriators in both chambers, urging them to ensure robust funding for 21st Century Cures Act programs, which ONC plays an important role in coordinating, in the next fiscal year’s budget legislation.

Click here for the article from Fierce Healthcare on the government funding deal.

Click here for a summary of the draft funding legislation from the Senate Appropriations Committee.

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