NIH, health centers avoid cuts in fiscal 2012

Many other federal health items received modest reductions under a funding measure approved by Congress and the White House.

By Doug Trapp — Posted Dec. 26, 2011

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For the third time in 2011, Congress adopted appropriations legislation that narrowly prevented a partial shutdown of the federal government -- this time for the remainder of fiscal year 2012. President Obama signed the measure on Dec. 17, which includes a mixed bag of small spending cuts, increases and freezes for nonmandatory federal health programs.

Supporters of the National Institutes of Health, for example, were pleasantly surprised to learn that the agency will receive a net increase of nearly $250 million over fiscal 2011 funding even after applying a 0.189% mandatory reduction the bill prescribes for most federal agencies.

In February, the Republican-controlled House had adopted a measure to cut the $30.4 billion fiscal 2011 NIH budget by $1.6 billion, noted Jennifer Zeitzer, director of legislative relations for the Federation of American Societies for Experimental Biology. "We have come a long way from that conversation."

House and Senate leaders reached an agreement on the $1 trillion combined spending measure on Dec. 15. The House adopted the appropriations bill on Dec. 16 on a 296-121 vote, which included 149 Democratic "yes" votes. The Senate followed suit on Dec. 17 on a 67-32 vote, with 14 Republicans voting to approve the measure.

The spending bill maintains nearly $2.8 billion in annual funding for community health centers and does not roll back billions in additional health center funding authorized by the health system reform law. The latter funding will allow health centers to provide care to up to 1.5 million more people in 2012, said Tom Van Coverden, president and CEO of the National Assn. of Community Health Centers. "Health centers stand ready to serve even more patients who need access to their care."

Overall, the measure reduces fiscal 2012 spending for the Depts. of Labor, Health and Human Services, and Education by $1.1 billion to reach $156.3 billion. In doing so, the spending bill enacted modest to significant cuts to the National Health Service Corps, other health professions training, the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Administration, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality.

Congressional approval of the fiscal 2012 spending bill was delayed in part due to negotiations over a separate extension of a payroll tax cut and approval of a cross-country oil pipeline's construction. Congress already had extended temporarily the federal government's funding multiple times since fiscal 2012 began on Oct. 1. The latest short-term extension was due to expire on Dec. 17.

"The passage of this bill marks the second year in a row that Congress has cut discretionary spending -- the first time this has occurred in modern history," said House Appropriations Committee Chair Hal Rogers (R, Ky.) after the Dec. 16 House vote. The bill includes $31 billion less in nonmandatory federal spending than in fiscal 2011 and $95 billion less than in fiscal 2010.

Democrats in the House fought off Republican amendments to the legislation that would have prevented any federal funding for Planned Parenthood, implementation of the national health system reform law, and patient-centered outcomes research at NIH and other federal agencies, said Rep. Norm Dicks (D, Wash.), the highest-ranking Democrat on the House Appropriations Committee. However, the measure does ban federal funding for needle exchange programs in Washington, supports abstinence-only sex education programs, and cuts in half the $600 million dedicated to family planning programs in fiscal 2011, according to Planned Parenthood.

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