Mar 22, 2024 - Health

Government spending deal keeps health programs near status quo

Illustration of the capitol dome cracking open to show a piggy bank inside

Illustration: Natalie Peeples/Axios

The latest government funding deal wasn't just stripped of big health policy changes — it also lacks significant raises for a host of federal health agencies.

Why it matters: A gridlocked Congress essentially settled on flat funding for the Department of Health and Human Services, avoiding an automatic sequester cut while leaving pandemic preparedness, mental health, biomedical research and public health efforts running at or near the status quo.

  • That followed last week's decision to discard policy "riders" that could have brought major changes to hospitals, pharmacy benefit managers and telehealth.
  • However, a successful global AIDS program got a temporary reprieve.

Driving the news: The deal, which still needs to be approved by the end of Friday to avoid a partial government shutdown, would fund HHS at $116.8 billion for fiscal 2024 — a small bump over the $115.4 billion enacted level.

  • The National Institutes of Health is in line to receive $48.6 billion, a $300 million increase in base funding with the lion's share going to mental health, Alzheimer's disease and cancer research.
  • The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention would get $9.2 billion, the same as last year's allotment.
  • The package includes $3.6 billion for pandemic preparedness and biodefense through the Administration for Strategic Preparedness and Response, including $65 million for the Biomedical Advanced Research and Development Authority.

Pandemic preparedness advocates expressed relief at those levels while a reauthorization of the Pandemic and All-Hazards Preparedness Act remains stalled in Congress.

  • But Republicans touted the package's clawback of $4.3 billion in "unnecessary" COVID-19 funding, with cuts potentially falling on activities like genomic sequencing and contact tracing.

What we're watching: The rolling funding deadlines and attendant shutdown drama are over, at least until the end of this fiscal year in September.

  • But bigger legislative changes may have to wait for a post-election "lame duck" session.

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