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Medical Research, Drug Treatment And Mental Health Are Winners In New Budget Bill

Sen. Susan Collins, R-Maine (center), is joined on Wednesday by Sen. Lindsey Graham (from left), R-S.C., Sen. Lisa Murkowski, R-Alaska, and Rep. Greg Walden, R-Ore. Collins was pushing for provisions in the budget bill aimed at lowering premiums for people purchasing health insurance in the Affordable Care Act's marketplaces. That didn't happen.

The big budget deal reached this week in the House doesn't include a long-sought-after provision to stabilize the Affordable Care Act marketplaces. But the $1.3 billion plan, set to fund the government through September, has lots of new money for medical research, addiction treatment and mental health care.

Here's the rundown of what's included in the 2,232-page spending bill, now in the hands of a Senate vote, based on summaries released by the House and Senate appropriations committees.

  • $78 billion in overall funding for the Department of Health and Human Services, a $10 billion increase
  • $3.6 billion to fight the opioid addiction crisis
    • This more than doubles the money allocated in fiscal 2017 and boosts funding for treatment and prevention, as well as helping to find alternatives for people suffering from pain.
  • $3.2 billion for mental health care
    • This is a 17 percent boost from last year and goes to treatment, prevention and research.
  • $37 billion for the National Institutes of Health
    • This is a $3 billion increase over fiscal 2017 and boosts spending on research into Alzheimer's disease and a universal flu vaccine, among other things.

Lawmakers could not agree on language designed to stabilize the Affordable Care Act insurance markets and lower insurance premiums that Sens. Lamar Alexander, R-Tenn., and Susan Collins, R-Maine, have been fighting for since last fall. That bill would have reinstated the cost-sharing reduction payments, by which the government reimburses insurance companies that give the lowest-income customers a break on their copayments and deductibles.

Last year President Trump announced that the government would stop making the payments, a decision that drove the unsubsidized premiums on insurance policies higher.

Alexander says his proposal would restore those payments and cut premiums as much as 40 percent.

"Nothing is more important to Americans than health care, and nothing is more frightening than the prospect of not being able to afford health insurance, which is the case for a growing number of Americans," he said at a news conference Wednesday.

But Democrats refused to support the provision because it also included language that would have barred any insurance policy sold on the ACA marketplaces from covering abortion.

Copyright 2018 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

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