Trump health official defends funding shifts to pay for detained migrant children

Trump health official defends funding shifts to pay for detained migrant children
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A top White House health official on Thursday defended a decision to shift money from health efforts in order to help pay to house detained migrant children.

Joe Grogan, director of health programs at the White House Office of Management and Budget, told reporters the administration will not divert money from anti-opioid efforts

“I can tell you there will be an absolute focus on ... not impacting the president's emphasis on opioids,” Grogan said.

“There will not be transfers of money that’s going to have an effect upon that effort,” he added.

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Grogan was referring to a decision by Health and Human Services (HHS) Secretary Alex Azar to shift millions of dollars from public health programs to the agency’s Unaccompanied Alien Children program in the Office of Refugee Resettlement.

According to a letter sent by Azar to Sen. Patty MurrayPatricia (Patty) Lynn MurrayVA senior adviser forced out amid concerns that he was 'getting paid to sit on his couch': report The Year Ahead: Drug pricing efforts to test bipartisanship Overnight Health Care: Manchin pitched Trump on reviving bipartisan ObamaCare fix | 4 in 10 don’t plan to get flu shots | Survey finds more than a quarter have pre-existing conditions MORE (D-Wash.), HHS plans to reallocate up to $266 million for the current fiscal year from elsewhere in the agency.

The letter shows HHS plans to take money from a variety of other health programs, including $16.7 million from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, $9.8 million from Medicare and Medicaid program operations, and $87.3 million overall from the National Institutes of Health.

Grogan defended the decision, and said whenever there’s a need to shift money across different departments, the OMB makes sure there won’t be negative impacts.

“We pressure test where they are going to move money from various accounts,” Grogan told reporters at a health policy event in Washington, D.C. “Sometimes it’s easy to pick a talking point, and say this money is coming out of this account, but we figure out at OMB, can this money be spent practically, is there a legal reason why it can’t be spent on its intended purpose.”

HHS has said reprogramming money within the agency is not uncommon, and has occurred for the the immigrant children program as recently as fiscal year 2017.  

To date, the only funds that have been reallocated this fiscal year are $17 million in unspent funds from the Ryan White HIV/AIDS program. That decision was made at the end of the Obama administration.

Similar transfers of money are also used in times of public health emergencies, such as the Zika virus outbreak in 2016.