Congress acts on FY 2015 funding; shows lukewarm support for global health R&D
As the DC summer kicks into full swing, Congress has had a busy month moving forward fiscal year (FY) 2015 funding legislation for a variety of government programs including global health research and development (R&D).
Global health R&D at USAID:
Yesterday, both the House and Senate State and Foreign Operations (SFOPs) appropriations subcommittees held mark-ups of their draft bills.
The House draft provides only topline spending numbers, with the addition of family planning/reproductive health, polio, the President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR), and the Global Fund funding levels. The House funded the overall account above the White House request, but below what was appropriated in FY 2014. Including the State Department and the US Agency for International Development (USAID) numbers, funding was $132 million below the numbers Congress appropriated in FY 2014, but a welcome $257 million more than what the White House had requested. For a quick comparison of numbers, check out the Kaiser Family Foundation’s SFOPs policy analysis. The other accounts called out in the House bill were $59 million for polio (the same as FY 2014, but 18 percent higher than the President’s request) and family planning at $461 million. Funding for family planning was a significant but not unexpected cut from both the FY 2014 number (24 percent cut) and the White House request (28 percent cut). As the full House appropriations committee has not yet marked up the bill (and it’s not clear that they will), details on the contents of the bill report’s priorities and other policy riders are not yet known. We do know the House bill reinstates the Mexico City Policy—which prevents nongovernmental organizations who receive federal dollars from promoting abortion services as part of family planning—or prohibits any funding to the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA). The full committee may take the bill up for consideration sometime next week.
The Senate summary provides considerably more specific account figures for global health than the House bill. The Senate bill flat-funds the Global Fund and PEPFAR compared with FY 2014 and is even with the White House request—it’s interesting to note that for this overall account, the House bill appears to provide a higher funding level, even though we don’t yet know the exact funding distribution. Most other accounts were funded at levels either matching or slightly above FY 2014 funding. One exception is the tuberculosis (TB) account, which faces an $11 million cut from FY 2014 levels, although it is not as dire as the proposed White House funding level, which would have cut an additional $23 million. There is better news to be found for family planning and reproductive health, neglected tropical diseases, polio, and vaccine access. There’s no explicit word in either the House or Senate bills regarding the overall Maternal and Child Health account.
NIH, CDC, and FDA
Last week the Senate held its Labor, Health, and Human Services (LHHS) subcommittee mark-up and released a summary of their draft bill. A full Senate committee mark-up has yet to be scheduled, and the House has yet to move forward with its own draft bill. This account remains one of the most contentious, both because of ongoing efforts to alter the health care reform programs and because of a Senate plan to use the Overseas Contingency Operations account as a complicated and likely unsustainable mechanism to boost up funding for domestic priorities.
The committee requested $30.459 billion for the National Institutes of Health (NIH), an increase to both the White House and FY 2014 levels by $324.0 million and $605.7 million, respectively, but still far less than the $32 billion needed. Global health programs within both NIH and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) also did quite well in the Senate bill—the CDC’s Centers for Global Health and Emerging Zoonotic and Infectious Diseases, the NIH’s National Institute of Allergies and Infectious Diseases (NIAID), and the Fogarty International Centers were nearly all funded at levels above both FY 2014 and the White House request.
Both the House and Senate have also marked-up their legislation to fund the Food and Drug Administration (FDA). The House bill funds the FDA at $2.583 billion (this number represents budget authority and does not include user fees), which is a $23 million increase over FY 2014 and is about level with the White House request. The Senate bill funds the FDA at $2.588 billion, an increase of $36 million over FY 2014. The Senate is taking up this bill as part of a “minibus” along with the bills from the Commerce, Justice, and Science subcommittee, the Transportation subcommittee, and the Housing and Urban Development subcommittees. The Senate version of the bill also included some interesting report language around FDA’s international leadership to combat threats to global health and the global drug supply chain.
The House Appropriations Committee approved their FY 2015 bill which essentially flat funds Department of Defense (DoD) R&D—which includes all research at DoD, not just neglected disease R&D—from FY 2014 levels. The American Association for the Advancement of Science provides a helpful summary of R&D funding within the draft bill which can be found here. The Senate Appropriations Committee has yet to mark-up a bill.
In both the House and Senate, we see policymakers diverging from the priorities emphasized by the White House in its original budget request: there is little mention of any implementation of the infamous Opportunity, Growth, and Security account suggestions for global health or health research, although the Senate Appropriations Committee has developed its own plan for handling the declining budget caps while still supporting accounts they view as important to US health research programs.
While the progress we’ve seen so far is commendable, Congress must speed its efforts to enact smart, evidence-based appropriations for global health R&D programs and their overarching accounts. As the end of the current fiscal year looms closer, policymakers must work together to avoid the stalemate that caused the government shutdown of the fall of 2013 and should support strong funding levels for global health R&D.