Senate Panel Approves 93 Percent Increase in Opioid Funding

Blunt shepherded the massive Labor and Health spending bill through a first panel vote. (Rob Kunzig/Morning Consult)

A Senate Appropriations subcommittee approved $261 million in funding for the opioid crisis on Tuesday, a 93 percent increase over last year.

The funding is part of $76.9 billion the Appropriations Subcommittee on Labor, Health and Human Services and Education favorably reported for the Department of Health and Human Services for the upcoming fiscal year. A full committee markup is scheduled for Thursday.

The funding proposed for opioids, which subcommittee Chairman Roy Blunt (R-Mo.) noted was a 542 percent increase over 2015 levels, is still shy of the $600 million Democrats had proposed earlier this year during debate over the Comprehensive Addiction and Recovery Act. Republicans blocked that funding when CARA, a bill targeting the opioid crisis, was on the floor.

The new opioid funding would provide a $28 million increase for the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s Prevention Drug Overdose program, a $49 million increase to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, an additional $52.5 million for the National Institute on Drug Abuse at the National Institutes of Health, and $50 million for Community Health Center’s treatment and prevention.

It would maintain $1.9 billion for the Substance Abuse Prevention and Treatment Block Grant and $94 million in mandatory funding to community health centers.

The new opioid funding comes as the House and Senate are poised to convene a conference committee to reconcile their separate legislative packages that address opioid abuse. Both chambers have passed authorizing legislation this year, although no new funding was attached to those bills, despite Democratic efforts.

Republicans had repeatedly pointed to the appropriations process for new funding to address what lawmakers are calling an epidemic. The Labor-HHS funding bill answers that call to some extent.

The bill also includes a $2 billion increase for the NIH for the second year in a row, which Blunt said was “critical” for making such increases annual.

Subcommittee leaders touted that bill, which is typically controversial, as the first bipartisan Labor-HHS spending bill in seven years. Last year, this was as far as the massive spending bill got before getting bogged down in partisan squabbles over Planned Parenthood.

In a demonstration of lawmakers’ desire to keep the appropriations process bipartisan this year, the bill would maintain funding for the Affordable Care Act, which subcommittee Republicans did not dispute during Tuesday’s markup.

The bill does not include any new funding for the health law, but maintains the funding that would keep the bill bipartisan. Senate Republicans hope to use an orderly appropriations process to prove they should keep the Senate majority in the upcoming November election.

The spending measure would eliminate funding for the Independent Payment Advisory Board, which was created under the ACA to recommend spending cuts to Medicare if spending exceeds certain limits, but has never actually convened. Funding to the board was cut by $15 million in the year-end omnibus spending bill that passed in December.

Blunt, who is a member of the Senate GOP conference leadership, is committed to bringing the bill to the floor for the first time in several years.