Before they headed off to their holidays, Congress and President Obama wrapped up what many hope will be a helpful fiscal package to benefit Americans’ health: The 2016 omnibus budget bill, which got so much attention, also provided some of the strongest health care funding in more than a dozen years, news reports say. This should better support efforts to address an array of concerns, including fighting cancer and Alzheimer’s disease, improving food safety, and the bolstering initiatives to preserve the effectiveness of antibiotics.
The director of the National Institutes of Health issued a statement praising the $2 billion boost to his agency’s budget, the best he said he had seen in years. The health-related funding took significant bipartisan lobbying, particularly to overcome what has been a tide of partisan, rancorous, and downright anti-scientific activity in Washington.
Compared with what other national needs get funding when Uncle Sam figures how to spend more than $4 trillion annually, the increased healthcare spend might not seem sizable. But the added money is expected to:
- Fully fund the Food and Drug Administration’s food safety act, which the agency has called the most sweeping revamping of measures to deal with preventable food-borne illnesses. Those maladies annually cause 48 million people (1 in 6 Americans) to get sick, hospitalize 128,000, and lead to the deaths of 3,000. In FY15, food safety had received only a quarter of its requested funding.
- Provide tens of millions to various U.S. agencies to fund their efforts to deal with the growing woe of antibiotic resistant infections and bacteria. These nasty bugs have plagued hospitals, in particular, causing already ill patients to suffer even more with debilitating and all too often deadly infections.
- Offer hundreds of millions — 60 percent more than the president had sought — for research on Alzheimer’s disease, and, as well, hundred of millions more in funding for cancer research with added support to the National Cancer Institute.
- Underwrite several hundred million in research conducted under the president’s Precision Medicine Initiative, boosting what Obama has called “patient powered” health study projects. It also will provide tens of millions in new brain research.
In case you’re wondering why I’m not getting into more specifics here, the measure that funded the health care efforts that I’m briefly describing, as well as the federal government itself, was rushed through Congress and on to the president’s desk in a blink. It’s more than 2,000 pages long. Experts are still dissecting it to see what stayed in and got cut out during legislative dickering. Further, parts of the bill, aimed at keeping the federal government funded until September and avoiding the budget brinkmanship that has been such a bane, will require more lawmaking still. As you can see, even a summary of its effects on just one agency can run a dozen pages, and a precis on the health-related funding by a DC consultancy fills nine pages of single-spaced type.
I’ve written about many of the areas that could benefit from this money, and, overall, I join with others concerned about medicine and science in holding at least a bit of year-end optimism that some smart, prudent, increased spending could improve the nation’s health. With the politicians and bureaucrats involved, however, we all need to be vigilant, too, about our tax dollars.