Week in Review
The Senate today is the last stop before final passage of an omnibus year-end spending bill. The House on Thursday — in contentious voting — approved the package, along with a stopgap spending resolution keeping federal agencies open over the next few days as senators deliberate on the larger spending bill.
The measure has been in negotiations for several weeks, but added spending is limited due to previously established budgetary caps, which left lawmakers little room to add money for discretionary health programs. Overall, funding for the agencies within the Department of Health and Human Services remain largely at last year’s levels or receive modest increases. However, separate mandatory spending for the Medicare and Medicaid programs jumps by more than $60 billion compared to 2014 levels, spurred by a huge increase in Medicaid funding to the states due to the Affordable Care Act.
Additional funding to respond to the Ebola crisis, particularly focused on assistance to West African countries and FDA and NIH drug and vaccine development, reduced any wiggle room for new spending. The original $6.2 billion White House Ebola response request was reduced in the spending package to $5.4 billion and is spread out between HHS agencies, the State Department and the Defense Department. Also, Republicans claimed no new health care overhaul law funding but omitted any major health law program cuts, except for a continued hold on money for a dormant health law provider payment advisory board. Separately, the measure continued a long-standing federal abortion ban and calls for administration action to clarify health plan abortion coverage requirements.
Congress this week completed action on a bill reauthorizing newborn screening programs (HR 1281), offering education, information tools and research on inheritable disorders in newborns and children. Also, the House passed bills updating veterans’ suicide prevention efforts (HR 5059) and renewing breast health education programs (HR 5185). The Senate could quickly complete action on the two measures today or this weekend prior to ending the term of the 113th Congress. The House has already retired for the year.