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Jill Wechsler is Pharm Exec's Washington Corespondent
After months of delay, Congress finally passed a $1.3 trillion omnibus budget bill March 22, 2018, just in time to avoid another government shut-down.
After months of delay, Congress finally passed a $1.3 trillion omnibus budget bill March 22, 2018, just in time to avoid another government shut-down. The measure increases federal support for biomedical research and health programs for fiscal year 2018, which began months ago.
A major winner in the funding measure is the National Institutes of Health (NIH), which saw its budget increase to $37 billion. Additional support is provided for research on Alzheimer’s disease, the brain research initiative, precision medicine, antibiotics, cancer and developing a universal flu vaccine.
FDA also gained $41 million in added appropriations, largely to improve food safety programs, enhance the Oncology Center of Excellence, and bolster programs governing animal drugs and feed, according to analysis by The Alliance for a Stronger FDA. FDA also will be able to tap $94 million to expand its role in combating opioid abuse, particularly FDA operations to detect and block imports of illegal drugs. And the agency gains access to $60 million more to support implementation of the 21st Century Cures Act.
Despite the big increase in federal funding for many programs, the measure disappointed the health care community by failing to include provisions to stabilize Affordable Care Act marketplaces. Insurers predict that this omission will boost health insurance premiums noticeably just before the November 2018 Congressional elections. The spending measure also did not address contentious immigration issues or fund a border wall to keep out illegal’s, prompting President Trump to threaten to veto the bill before signing it into law.
Pharmaceutical companies suffered a notable loss in failing to convince Congress to alter an earlier legislative change that increased their liability for covering the Medicare Part D donut hole. In a budget deal approved in February, the legislators approved a measure that boosts the discount manufacturers pay to 70% from 50% to patients in the coverage gap, adding about $40 billion in costs to drug companies over 10 years.
And despite an additional $3.6 billion to address the opioid crisis, this was far less than the $10 billion requested by public health officials. Most of the funding increase will support substance abuse treatment. In addition, the legislation provides $3.2 billion for mental health programs, a notable increase. This budget runs through September 2018, when Congress is scheduled to approve the administration’s budget plan for 2019.