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House LHHS Subcommittee Members Express Concern about NIH Funding in the President’s Proposed FY2015 Budget At Hearing with DHHS Secretary Sebelius

Legislative Update
March 13, 2013

Secretary of Health and Human Services Kathleen Sebelius
Secretary of Health and Human Services
Kathleen Sebelius
Today, the House Labor, Health and Human Services, and Education (LHHS) Appropriations Subcommittee held a hearing about the President’s Fiscal Year (2015) budget request for the Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS) where the sole witness was Secretary Kathleen Sebelius. Although the clear focus of the hearing was funding and implementation of the Affordable Care Act—with questions in that regard coming from all Republican members—there were comments and questions about National Institutes of Health (NIH) funding.

Subcommittee member and Ranking Member of the Appropriations Committee Cong. Nita Lowey (D-NY) expressed her concern about the President’s proposed FY2015 NIH funding, which is a $200 million or 0.7 percent increase over the FY2014 funding level of $30.13 billion. She noted that, although FY2014 appropriations restored $1 billion of the $1.7 billion cut by the sequester in FY2013, the proposed FY2015 funding would not restore NIH to the pre-FY2013 level. She cautioned that now was not the time for a retrenchment in research, due to scientific opportunity. Secretary Sebelius replied that the President agrees that the nation should have a robust biomedical research program as part of a larger innovation agenda and has proposed the $56 billion Opportunity, Growth and Security Initiative that would add $970 million to the NIH budget for a total of $31.3 billion in FY2015. She noted that these funds would be used to increase the number of new grants awarded and provide additional resources for “signature” activities such as the Brain Research through Advancing Innovative Neurotechnologies (BRAIN) Initiative, improving the sharing and analysis of complex biomedical data sets, expanding research on Alzheimer’s disease and vaccine development, and further accelerating partnership efforts to identify and develop new therapeutic drug targets, being managed with in the Cures Acceleration Network (CAN) program within the National Center for Advancing Translational Sciences (NCATS). Although no member commented on the feasibility of this fund, NAEVR has stated in its explanation of the budget proposal that since it would be paid for through cutting spending and narrowing tax loopholes—the latter of which has not been supported by Republican Members of Congress—it faces an uncertain future.

Cong. Andy Harris, M.D. (R-MD) also questioned the President’s commitment to the NIH, since he proposes to increase from 2.5 percent to 3 percent the Program Evaluation Transfer or “TAP” that the NIH and other DHHS agencies must pay to fund cross-cutting programs, such as the National Center for Health Statistics. Dr. Harris noted that the proposed 0.5 percent TAP increase levied on the $30 billion NIH budget would reduce its $200 million FY2015 increase by $150 million. He recommended to Secretary Sebelius that the “Department redirect that TAP increase back to NIH so that it essentially has a $350 million increase.” Secretary Sebelius stated that the TAP is directed by the LHHS Appropriations bill, and several veteran Democratic members echoed that it is within the purview of the Subcommittee (and its companion Senate Subcommittee) to make such changes. [Note: Although the Obama Administration has proposed in previous budgets to increase the TAP, both the House and Senate LHHS Appropriations Subcommittees have kept it at 2.5 percent].

The Subcommittee is scheduling a hearing with NIH Director Francis Collins, M.D., Ph.D. for late March (date not yet posted). It has already scheduled a Public Witness hearing for March 25-NAEVR has submitted a request to testify in support of FY2015 NIH funding at $32 billion and NEI funding at $730 million. NAEVR was chosen to testify at a similar hearing in 2013, at which international clinician-scientist Hendrik Scholl, M.D. (Wilmer Eye Institute/Johns Hopkins) represented the Alliance.