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How Will Obama’s Last Budget Affect Healthcare?

By Jennifer Larson, contributor

While his potential replacements are battling it out in state caucuses and primaries, Pres. Barack Obama may have a fight of his own to get his latest spending package approved. The president’s proposed budget for the 2017 fiscal year calls for $4.1 trillion in overall spending.

Healthcare initiatives and programs account for a sizeable chunk, with $82.8 billion in discretionary funding designated for the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. Here are just a few examples of the healthcare-related goals included in the president’s 2017 proposed budget:

•    Fight opioid painkiller addiction;
•    Help states expand Medicaid;
•    Battle antibiotic-resistant bacteria
•    Continue reforming Medicare, including the Medicare Advantage program;
•    Support emergency preparedness;
•    Expand mental health treatment;
•    Increase the number of providers in underserved areas as part of the National Health Service Corps.

How Will Obama’s 2017 Budget Affect Healthcare?

Eliminate cancer?

One of the earmarks in the budget proposal generating the most attention is the “Cancer Moonshot”--Vice President Joe Biden’s initiative to eliminate cancer. Obama’s proposed budget would provide $1 billion to accelerate the development of new detection methods and treatments, which will include $755 million for the National Institutes of Health and the Food and Drug Administration to use for cancer research.

Biden recently held the first meeting of the Cancer Moonshot Task Force, which includes heads of executive branch departments, agencies and offices such as the Department of Health and Human Services, the National Cancer Institute, the National Economic Council and the National Science Foundation. Groups like the Oncology Nurses Society have expressed a strong interest in supporting the task force and finding ways to contribute.

Healthcare workforce funding

One question that remains is whether the proposed budget provides enough funding for healthcare education and workforce development programs.

Obama’s budget did include a provision for $229 million for the Nursing Workforce Development programs that are part of Title VIII of the Public Health Service Act. But as the American Association of Colleges of Nursing has pointed out, that dollar amount is roughly the same as last year’s allocation.

The American Nurses Association praised the budget for investments in many areas, including the $146 million for the National Institute of Nursing Research and the Cancer Moonshot, as well as a $41.2 million increase in funding for the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality. But when it comes to the workforce development funding, it isn’t convinced there will be enough.

“ANA, however, maintains concerns over the framework’s inadequate support for vital nursing workforce development programs,” the association’s statement in response to the budget stated.

(For a detailed look at the proposed amount of funding for Title VII and Title VIII Health Professions Programs, consult this chart from the Association of American Medical Colleges.)

John Colbert, executive director of the Association of Schools of Allied Health Professions (ASAHP) noted that the funding line for allied health programs to receive direct assistance was already eliminated in 2012.

“We were pleased to see that the President’s budget request includes an increase in the maximum Pell grant, along with further modifications to allow students to be eligible for year round Pell grants to help accelerate their postsecondary education,” he said.

Future of the proposed budget

For now, the proposed budget is exactly that: a proposed budget.  The budget must be approved by Congress, and many are calling that prospect a “hard sell.” A number of Republican lawmakers have already objected to various parts of the budget, including the overall price tag and the use of “mandatory funds.”

In fact, Senate Budget Committee Chairman Mike Enzi (R-WY) and House Budget Committee Chairman Tom Price (R-GA) recently released a joint statement to announce that their committees will not invite the director of the Office of Management and Budget to speak and discuss Obama’s proposed budget.

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