Senate panel recommends $96 billion for health department


The Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) would get $96 billion under a draft funding bill released Tuesday by the Senate Appropriations Committee, an increase of $2 billion from last year.

The fiscal 2021 draft spending bill funds several programs intended to prepare the country for public health threats and emergencies like COVID-19. Public health experts argue Congress has underfunded their efforts for decades.

The bill is unlikely to be the one signed by the president but kicks off negotiations between the Republican-controlled Senate and Democratic House majority over end-of-year spending package to fund the government. The government has been operating under a stopgap spending measure known as a continuing resolution since the start of the fiscal year in October.

Overall, HHS’s public health preparedness and response programs would receive $4.2 billion, an increase of $161 million from last year, according to the committee.

That includes $300 million for the HHS Hospital Preparedness Program, which provides grants to states to prepare hospitals for public health emergencies, an increase of $24 million from last year.

The Biomedical Advanced Research and Development Authority, which funds the development of vaccines, tests and therapeutics during emergencies, would receive $611 million, an increase of $50 million from last year.

HHS’s pandemic influenza program would get $310 million, an increase of $50 million from last year, to improve the effectiveness of the flu vaccine.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s (CDC) Public Health Emergency and Hospital Preparedness programs would get $705 million, an increase of $30 million.

In total, the CDC, one of the agencies leading the response to the COVID-19 pandemic, would receive nearly $8 billion, including a 3 percent increase for its National Center for Emerging and Zoonotic Infectious Diseases, which aims to detect, prevent and control infectious diseases like COVID-19.

The CDC’s global health division would receive a nearly 8 percent increase for programs including its global disease detection and emergency response.

The National Institutes of Health (NIH), the federal government’s health research organization, would get a 5 percent funding boost — an increase of $2 billion from last year — to fund research into COVID-19, Alzheimer’s, premature births, cancer, substance use and mental health disorders, and other health conditions.

That boost includes a $56 million increase in funding — a 16 percent bump compared to last year — for the NIH’s National Institute on Minority Health and Health Disparities. People of color disproportionately have underlying health conditions, due to systemic racism and unequal access to health care, that have led to them dying of COVID-19 at higher rates.

The Strategic National Stockpile, which faced criticism in the early days of the pandemic for not having enough protective equipment for health care workers, would receive $705 million under the proposal.

Part of the proposed increase for the CDC includes $200 million to fund the Trump administration’s Ending the HIV Epidemic, a program aimed at treating people with HIV and protecting people at high risk from getting the disease.

While the Senate Appropriations Committee wrote that it was “concerned” about increases in sexually transmitted infections, it did not recommend a funding increase for the CDC’s STD program.

The federal family planning program, commonly referred to as Title X, which hasn’t received a funding increase since 2015, would be flat-funded once again at $286 million. The program funds reproductive health services and primary health care for millions of low-income women and men.

But it has become politicized in recent years because of its funding of Planned Parenthood. Planned Parenthood left the program last year after the Trump administration finalized a rule banning Title X providers from providing or promoting abortions.

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