Senate Panel Advances Bill With Extra Funds for Opioid Battle

Stay ahead of developments in federal and state health care law, regulation and transactions with timely, expert news and analysis.

By Nathaniel Weixel and Madison Alder

June 7 — A Senate subcommittee approved a bill June 7 that would provide additional funding to combat opioid abuse.

The bipartisan FY 2017 Labor, Health and Human Services, and Education Appropriations bill would provide funding for programs to combat opioid abuse within the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration and the Health Resources and Services Administration.

The bill now moves to the full Appropriations Committee for a vote June 9.

The amount for opioids represents a $126 million increase over last year's amounts, and is part of a total $76.9 billion appropriated for the Department of Health and Human Services for the upcoming fiscal year.

According to a summary, the opioid funding package contains a $28 million increase for the CDC Prescription Drug Overdose program, a $49 million increase to SAMHSA for treatment, prevention, and overdose reversal, and $50 million for Community Health Center treatment and prevention.

The bill continues to provide $1.9 billion for the Substance Abuse Prevention and Treatment Block Grant and $94 million in mandatory funds to community health centers. It also provides an additional $52.5 million to the National Institute on Drug Abuse at the NIH.

The opioid funding comes as the House and Senate are preparing to go to conference on two separate pieces of legislation related to combatting the prescription opioid epidemic.

A Bipartisan Effort, Chairman Says

The $162 billion spending bill is the result of negotiations between subcommittee Chairman Sen. Roy Blunt (R-Mo.) and ranking member Patty Murray (D-Wash.). Blunt said it represents the first bipartisan Labor-HHS spending bill in seven years.

“We’re both pleased to have the first bipartisan bill from this subcommittee in seven years,” Blunt said. He noted that the subcommittee had about $270 million less to work with this year, which he said was “a problem to work around.”

The bill contains a $2 billion boost for the National Institutes of Health, and also avoids any major fights over the Affordable Care Act. The legislation continues funding policies related to the ACA that are already in place, including a prohibition on new funds for the Risk Corridors program—a program that was designed to help health insurers cover high-cost claims.

“I am especially proud that this bill doesn't include a single new damaging policy rider, which would have been a poison pill,” Murray said during the hearing.

Medical Research

The $2 billion increase to the NIH would bring its overall budget to $34 billion for fiscal year 2017.

The bill proposes funding increases for five NIH programs, three of which will receive increases above $100 million: The Precision Medicine Initiative will receive an increase of $100 million, Alzheimer's disease research will receive an increase of $400 million and the BRAIN (Brain Research through Advancing Innovative Neurotechnologies) Initiative will receive an increase of $100 million.

Research groups praised the Senate's action.

“For the second year in a row the Senate has taken a critical step towards ending the Alzheimer’s epidemic,” Alzheimer’s Association President and CEO Harry Johns said in a statement.

The bill was also praised by President American Association for Cancer Research Nancy Davidson, who said the increased funding for the NIH was “extremely significant” and would make advances in research possible.

Committee Democrats had been pushing for mandatory NIH funding as part of a separate precision medicine legislative package, but the bipartisan bill doesn't contain any such language.

“The second year increasing funding for NIH research doesn’t diminish the support that we’re developing for a surge of funding for five specific projects [NIH Director Francis Collins] has outlined at NIH,” Sen. Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.) said during the hearing.

Path Forward

After the hearing, Blunt told reporters that he and Murray decided to focus on three bipartisan policy areas: funding to combat opioid abuse, funding for medical research and year-round Pell grants.

“The determination was made by Sen. Murray and I that we want a bill that can go to the full committee, and we report it out in a bipartisan way,” Blunt said.

However, Blunt said other Senate Republicans could seek to include their own policy riders or amendments, including some that would take money away from key areas of the ACA.

“They very well might [introduce ACA-related amendments], and they could. But our goal both as a majority and hopefully as a Senate is to get these bills to where they can go to the Senate floor,” Blunt said.

To contact the reporters on this story: Nathaniel Weixel in Washington at and Madison Alder in Washington at

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Brian Broderick at

Request Health Care on Bloomberg Law