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DHHS Secretary Price Addresses NIH Funding and Structure Issues at House LHHS Hearing

Legislative Update
March 29, 2017

On March 29, the House Labor, Health and Human Services, and Education (LHHS) Appropriations Subcommittee held a hearing with Department of Health and Human Services Secretary Tom Price, M.D., a former House member from Georgia. Dr. Price’s formal testimony focused on the President’s Fiscal Year (FY) 2018 Budget Blueprint and its policy direction for the Department, which includes prioritizing certain critical programs and proposing the elimination of those that are duplicative or have an unproven impact on public health. He emphasized the Administration’s commitment to Mental Health and Substance Abuse, Emergency Preparedness and Response, and Childhood Obesity.

Subcommittee Members from both sides of the aisle focused primarily on the Affordable Care Act—especially whether DHHS would support the current “law of the land” since Congress recently failed to bring a repeal measure to the floor— and National Institutes of Health (NIH) funding and structure.

In his Opening Statement, Subcommittee Chair Tom Cole (R-OK) emphasized his joint efforts with Senate LHHS Appropriations Subcommittee Chair Roy Blunt (R-MO) in getting NIH funding “back on track” with the $2 billion FY2016 increase and Senate-proposed $2 billion FY2017 increase (which is not yet finalized—Congress is operating under a Continuing Resolution that expires on April 28). He acknowledged the Trump Administration’s March 16 FY2018 Budget Blueprint’s proposal to cut NIH by $5.8 billion and its March 28 FY2017 defense/border security proposal to cut $18 billion from NonDefense Discretionary funding, including $1.2 billion from NIH and $314 million from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). He commented that reducing NIH and CDC funding would leave the nation less secure and that he will push for major revisions to the budget, recognizing that, “NIH and CDC are every bit as important as defense, as it is just as easy to die from a bioterrorism attack or a pandemic, such as Zika or Ebola.”

Since the President’s FY2018 Budget Blueprint also proposes a major reorganization of NIH’s Institutes and Centers that “focuses resources on highest priority research and training…reduces administrative costs and rebalances Federal contributions to research funding,” Members asked whether the emphasis would be on the NIH structure or its funding priorities. Dr. Price, who announced that budget details are still being worked out and will not be released until mid-May, said it was a combination of both types of potential changes. He centered most of his NIH comments on indirect costs in NIH awards, which account for up to 30 percent of the total cost of grants. “Indirect costs accounted for $6.4 billion in NIH’s FY2016 budget. We could get that down if NIH had a 10-12 percent limit on indirect costs as is done with private industry and foundation grants. We need to focus on things that work and get rid of duplication and redundancy in research.”

Although Chairman Cole has indicated that he will hold a hearing with NIH Director Francis Collins, M.D., Ph.D. in May, the Subcommittee has already held a March 21 Public Citizen Witness hearing. NAEVR submitted written testimony to the hearing file urging $2 billion NIH increases in each FY2017 and FY2018, and National Eye Institute (NEI) funding of $800 million in FY2018.

NAEVR is currently preparing a strategy to respond to potential NIH structural and research priority proposals once the FY2018 budget details issue in mid-May.