HHS’ $83 billion budget proposal under spotlight at House hearing

The House Committee on Ways and Means held a hearing to evaluate HHS’ $82.8 billion discretionary budget request for Fiscal Year (FY) 2017. HHS Secretary Sylvia Mathews Burwell testified at the hearing in support of the agency’s request, noting that the funds are necessary to build on successes under the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (ACA) (P.L. 111-148), advance medical research, and reform health care delivery.

Programs

Burwell testified that the budget would allow expanded access to health insurance coverage under the ACA by giving HHS another tool to encourage Medicaid expansion. Burwell explained that the budget would give three years of full federal support to any state that chooses to expand its Medicaid program, regardless of when the state elects to expand. The budget would also fund the Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP) through FY 2019. Burwell emphasized the importance of funding to advance the way providers are paid, how care is delivered, and the accessibility of quality care. She stressed the need to devote efforts to driving down prescription drug costs through innovative purchasing strategies and delivery system reforms that would be funded under the budget request.

Safety

Burwell testified in support of the $1.1 billion that HHS requested to combat opioid-related deaths. The funding would allow significant increases in access to treatment for individuals addicted to opioids, improve prescribing practices with enhanced prescribing guidelines, and provide preparation for communities and first responders. Her testimony highlighted other areas of funding need for HHS including efforts to increase access to behavioral and mental health care, combat antibiotic-resistant bacteria, and develop international and domestic preparedness.

Welfare

The testimony also noted the importance of supporting efforts related to early childcare, child welfare, and better targeting of funds under the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) program. Burwell said that funding increases are necessary to support individuals at all stages of life. She justified budget requests for investments in the care of older adults by noting that the population age 65 and over is projected to more than double to 98 million in 2060.

Program Integrity

Burwell noted that combatting fraud and abuse in the Medicare and Medicaid programs was a top priority for HHS. In her testimony, Burwell explained that HHS hopes to continue efforts to cut fraud, waste, and abuse through the $199 million in new program integrity investments requested under the budget.

Response

Several members of the committee challenged the legitimacy of the budget proposal. For example, in his opening remarks, the Chairman of the House Committee on Ways and Means, Kevin Brady (R-Texas) noted his belief that the budget is “not rooted in reality.”