‘The Biggest Health-Care Story in the Senate Today’ – or Not


In the medical research world, one of the most anticipated congressional hearings is the one in which Francis Collins testifies on the president’s proposed budget for the NIH before the Senate Appropriations Committee.

But I’m guessing no one anticipated the Senate Republicans’ draft health-care reform bill would drop right before the hearing.

“Thanks for coming out and covering the biggest health-care story in the Senate today,” a committee aide joked to all four reporters at the press table.

“This hearing takes place in the midst of a very pivotal moment for our health-care system as a whole,” Sen. Patty Murray (D-Wash.), ranking member of the labor-health subcommittee on Appropriations, said in her opening statement.

While my colleagues who actually cover health-care reform are way more knowledgeable on this topic, I asked health committee chairman Sen. Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.), for his comments on the draft bill, which you can listen to here.

Still, the line to get into the NIH appropriations hearing extended almost to the end of the hallway, and considering all the craziness with the health-care bill, a fair amount of senators showed up to ask questions.

This might have something to do with the historic, $7.5 billion cut the NIH would see under President Donald Trump’s proposed fiscal year 2018 budget. The proposed cut is almost a quarter of the agency’s $34.1 billion budget.

As divided as Congress is on health-care reform, it appears pretty united in its opposition to these cuts. After all, Congress just gave the NIH a $2 billion increase when lawmakers passed the 2017 spending bill last month—the second year in a row they did that. (Fast forward to 1:29:25 in this video find out what Alexander called “one of the more harebrained recommendations in the budget”).

I caught up with Sen. Roy Blunt (R-Mo.), chairman of labor-health appropriations, after the hearing who told me, “I think it's not likely that there would be any reduction in health-care research money. And I think it's more likely that there would be an increase.”

At the same time, the Show-Me-State senator told me, “A lot of things will develop over the course of the next few weeks, and we’ll see what number we’re actually dealing with at the end of the process.”

We will see indeed.

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