To date, no appropriation bill has successfully reached President Obama’s desk. Last minute efforts in the Senate to move the Mil-Con Zika bill failed before the Senate left for recess on July 14. With both chambers out of session until September, and the looming elections, the further movement of any appropriations in 2016 is unlikely, leaving little question that FY 2017 will begin with a continuing resolution. Each of the 12 discretionary spending bills currently stand as shown:
Opioid Abuse Legislation
In a 92-2 vote on July 14, the Senate passed the Comprehensive Addiction & Recovery Act which would authorize the Attorney General and Secretary of Health and Human Services to award grants to address the national epidemics of prescription opioid abuse and heroin use, and to provide for the establishment of an inter-agency task force to review, modify, and update best practices for pain management and prescribing pain medication.
The bill was first introduced by Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI) and passed the Senate in a 94-1 vote on 3/9/16. It then passed the House with a substitute amendment that incorporated 18 other opioid abuse bills in a 407 – 5 vote. The bills subsequently passed through a conference committee to reconcile the two versions of the bill. Concerns remain that the bill, while authorizing funding for treatment and recovery programs, is not sufficiently funded after attempts to add $600 million in emergency funding to the bill failed in both the House and Senate. The bill currently awaits the President Obama’s signature
GMO Food Labeling Measure
The White House announced on July 13 that President Obama would likely sign the GMO food labeling bill as resolved in the House on July 14. The bill, S 764, would subject food producers to a mandatory labeling procedure for all non-meat genetically modified organisms (GMO). The provision would require the US Department of Agriculture to develop a standardized label for GMOs within two years of enactment that would include the creation of a threshold for GMO content necessitating labeling
The measure would bar any consideration of bioengineering during the safety evaluation of a product and would preempt existing state regulations on the issue of GMO labeling. The bill defines a GMO as any item that contains genetic material modified through genetic recombination, referred to as recombinant DNA, that couldn’t be achieved through conventional breeding or isn’t otherwise found in nature.
The bill passed over the concerns of consumer groups that oppose the exemption of meat products.
House Mental Health Bill
In a 422-2 vote on July 6, the Helping Families in Mental Health Crisis Act passed through the House. The bill authored by Rep. Tim Murphy (R-PA) would make available psychiatric, psychological, and supportive services for individuals with mental illness and families in mental health crisis. It would create new federal organizations and positions designed to address mental health care and expands the resources available to individuals with mental health disease. It also includes provisions which would expand Medicare Incentive payments for meaningful EHR use to clinical psychiatrists. However, the Senate presently lacks a suitable companion bill.
DoT TIGER Grants
The Department of Transportation is in the process of awarding $500 million in funding for forty national transportation projects under the Transportation Investment Generating Economic Recovery (TIGER) program established by the Obama Administration. Among the awards is a $19 million grant to connect downtown Pittsburgh to surrounding communities. Currently, President Obama is seeking $1.25 billion in funding for FY 2017, far more than the House proposal of $450 million & the Senate proposal of $525 million.
Healthcare Industry Anti-Trust Lawsuit
The US Department of Justice is suing to stop the merger of Anthem Inc. & Cigna Corp. as well asAetna Inc. & Humana Inc. Justice Department officials are concerned that the deals would decrease competition in the health insurance market as the five largest companies could become three.
Child Nutrition Programs
The Senate is close to passing a school nutrition reauthorization bill that would extend funding for the National School Lunch Program, School Breakfast Program, & the Summer Food Service Program, among other free & reduced-price meal programs for children. The various programs would receive $30 billion in funding over the five-year authorization. While the Senate reauthorization has bipartisan support, the House companion has only Republican support due to partisan provisions. However, there remains hope that a conference committee may be able to approve a reauthorization this fall.
FDA Fitness Tracker & App Regulation
The Food & Drug Administration (FDA) declined to regulated fitness trackers and mobile health & wellness applications in a guidance published July 28. The FDA defined exempt technologies as those tools intended only for general wellness, such as weight management, physical fitness, sleep, or mental acuity trackers, applications, and games. The guidance clarified that the FDA would seek to regulate any product that claims the ability to treat or diagnose a specific disease or condition.
John Zang, DMGS Accounts Coordinator contributed to this post