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House HHS Funding Measure Highlights Public Health Emergencies

July 6, 2020, 11:43 PM

The federal health agency tasked with fighting Covid-19 would get $96.4 billion for the upcoming year under a House bill released Monday—a $1.5 billion bump from last year.

The House Appropriations subcommittee charged with funding the Department of Health and Human Services and other health agencies is scheduled to vote on the bill Tuesday.

The proposal marks the beginning of Congress’s deliberations over how to fund the agency most directly responsible for responding to the pandemic. The HHS has already been tasked with delivering billions of dollars in aid to hospitals and clinics, while the Food and Drug Administration has combed through thousands of applications for vaccines, treatments, and tests.

About $9 billion would go toward public health and emergency response initiatives like creating a campaign to boost flu vaccinations and offering more resources for states to respond to health emergencies. Initiatives to boost U.S.-based drug manufacturing and vaccine development would get $4.5 billion. The HHS’s Biomedical Advanced Research and Development Authority would be directed to use $500 million of that money for antibacterial research and development and another $500 million for “next generation vaccine manufacturing facility enhancements.”

House lawmakers released the Food and Drug Administration’s funding bill Sunday. The agency would get $3.2 billion in discretionary funding, a $40.8 million bump from the 2020 budget. Total funding for the FDA, including the fees it collects from the companies it regulates, is about $6 billion.

Improvements Needed

The funding bill also highlights where the Democratic-led House appropriators see public health initiatives needing improvement. About $400 million would go toward modernizing public health data collection, which the Covid-19 pandemic has shown is patchy and can miss important demographic details.

The pandemic also shined a spotlight on the dearth of supplies in the Strategic National Stockpile. The spending bill would require the HHS to give weekly reports to lawmakers about emergency equipment in the stockpile and how it’s distributed until the Covid-19 public health emergency declaration lifts. So far Congress has struggled to get details about supplies.

Peppered throughout the bill are blocks of emergency funding. The budget includes about $9 billion of emergency supplemental funding for the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to “improve the nation’s preparedness for public health emergencies,” according to a committee summary. The National Institutes of Health would get $5 billion in emergency funding.

Two provisions that will likely cause conflict with Republicans would disallow any appropriations to be used to implement or enforce a rule that allows health-care workers to deny care based on their religious and moral beliefs and a rule that removes LGBT people and those who have had or are seeking abortions from the Affordable Care Act’s non-discrimination protections. The religious conscience rule was tossed out by three courts and is on appeal to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit.

—With assistance from Jeannie Baumann

To contact the reporters on this story: Jacquie Lee in Washington at jlee1@bloomberglaw.com; Shira Stein in Washington at sstein@bloomberglaw.com

To contact the editors responsible for this story: Fawn Johnson at fjohnson@bloomberglaw.com; Meghashyam Mali at mmali@bloombergindustry.com

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