Rarity in Senate: Health bill advances with bipartisan support

Rarity in Senate: Health bill advances with bipartisan support

The Senate Appropriations Committee on Thursday advanced its health spending bill to the Senate floor, drawing bipartisan support for the measure for the first time in seven years. 

Lawmakers on both sides of the aisle hailed the bill, while acknowledging that tough decisions had to be made, given that the funding level is $270 million below this year’s amount.

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The bill includes extra funding for two top priorities of both parties: medical research at the National Institutes of Health (NIH) and fighting the opioid drug abuse epidemic. 

“This is the first bipartisan Senate Labor-HHS [Department of Health and Human Services] bill in seven years, and I want to thank Senator [Patty] Murray [D-Wash.] for her work on the bill,” said Sen. Roy BluntRoy Dean BluntThese Senate seats are up for election in 2022 Swalwell slams House Republican for touting funding in bill she voted down Johnson, Thune signal GOP's rising confidence MORE (R-Mo.), the chairman of the health subcommittee.   

Notably, the bill steers clear of attacks on ObamaCare, serving as a step toward securing Democratic support and serving Senate Republicans’ goal of advancing appropriations bills this year.

“I am very glad that this bill doesn’t include any new policy riders that would have poisoned the bill and made it partisan,” Murray said. 

The bill does continue a limitation on ObamaCare’s “risk corridor” program, requiring that it be budget-neutral. Republicans have derided the program as a “bailout” of insurers, though many insurers have cited a shortfall in the program’s funding for financial losses and the need to hike premiums. 

The bill also eliminates funding for ObamaCare’s “Independent Payment Advisory Board,” a controversial panel that would recommend ways to limit Medicare spending. The panel has never been set up, given that healthcare spending has grown too slowly to trigger the panel into action. 

The measure includes a $2 billion increase for the NIH, bringing its total funding to $34 billion. 

It also includes $261 million to fight opioid abuse, an increase of 93 percent. 

Democrats, however, said they still want more funding for opioid abuse, saying there is a need for a $600 million emergency funding measure from Sen. Jeanne ShaheenCynthia (Jeanne) Jeanne ShaheenWicker: Biden comments on Ukraine caused 'distress' for both parties Senators introduce bill aimed at protecting Ukrainian civilians Biden huddles with group of senators on Ukraine-Russia tensions MORE (D-N.H.) that Republicans rejected on an opioid bill in March. That bill is now headed for a conference committee to bridge gaps with the House. 

“We still need the Shaheen supplemental,” said Sen. Barbara MikulskiBarbara Ann MikulskiTwo women could lead a powerful Senate spending panel for first time in history Harris invites every female senator to dinner next week Will the real Lee Hamiltons and Olympia Snowes please stand up? MORE (D-Md.), the committee’s top Democrat. 

The committee on Thursday passed an amendment from Murray that prevents federal funds from being used to interfere with the prescribing of medical marijuana in states where it is legal. 

The amendment passed 18-11, splitting both parties.