GOP Obamacare Repeal Would Raid Vaccine Program Funds

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By Alex Ruoff

Republicans’ plan for repealing the Affordable Care Act would end a $10 billion fund for federal public health programs such as ensuring poor children have access to vaccines, a public health group told Bloomberg BNA.

Public health officials will be in Washington the week of March 6 urging lawmakers not to cut funding for federal vaccination and other preventive health programs, like Alzheimer’s disease education, Michael Fraser, executive director of the Association of State and Territorial Health Officials (ASTHO), said March 7. Officials want Republicans to commit to keeping the more than $500 million in annual spending for those programs.

Additionally, $3.5 billion from the fund was set to go to fight the opioid epidemic, support cancer research and accelerate new drugs to market.

Republicans have long decried the fund, known as the Prevention and Public Health Fund, as a private slush fund for the president because it’s not subject to the annual appropriations process. Money for federal programs currently supported under the fund can be approved by Congress, Rep. Greg Walden (R-Ore.), chairman of the House Energy and Commerce Committee, told Bloomberg BNA March 7.

“Right now it’s mandatory funding, it cuts Congress out of the decision-making process,” Walden said. “We think that’s not appropriate and it gives too much authority to the secretary, even though he’s now our secretary now.”

The bill House leaders are championing as a replacement of the ACA would halt the fund in fiscal year 2019. The fund contributed $324 million to vaccine programs in 2016 and more than $160 million to states in preventative health grants. The fund, originally granted $10 billion to spend over 10 years, has spent $6 billion since its creation in 2010.

In passing the 21st Century Cures Act, a 2016 medical innovations bill, lawmakers committed $3.5 billion from the fund to pay for expanded funding for the National Institutes of Health and the Food and Drug Administration. A Republican aide told Bloomberg BNA the entire $3.5 billion has already been committed for Cures provisions and won’t be affected by the repeal bill.

Fighting for Funds

Two dozen state public health officials will come to Capitol Hill the week of March 6 to ask lawmakers to sustain funding for public health and preventive health measures, Fraser told Bloomberg BNA.

The ASTHO isn’t asking Republicans to keep the fund, but is hoping lawmakers will commit to funding preventive and public health programs at similar levels, Fraser said. A main goal is getting support for the Preventive Health and Health Services Block Grant, a $160 million fund states can use to support public health services and emergency medical services.

Lawmakers are likely to agree the programs need funding, but how much money they’ll commit each year is unclear. There is an annual battle between advocates and appropriators over how much money is needed to support the vaccination program, known as the 317 Program after a section of the Public Health Service Act ( 34 HCDR, 2/22/17 ).

In 2016, appropriators funded the program at roughly $610 million, well below the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s request of $930 million, according to agency budget documents. Much of the funding goes to ensure vaccines are available to pediatricians around the country.

To contact the reporter on this story: Alex Ruoff in Washington at aruoff@bna.com

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Kendra Casey Plank at kcasey@bna.com

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