House spending bill cuts ONC, AHRQ budgets in FY18

The House Committee on Rules this week released a combined appropriations bill for Fiscal Year 2018 with proposed funding for federal agencies. If passed by Congress, the Office of the National Coordinator for Health IT would receive a budget of only $38 million next year as part of the legislation.

While the Department of the Interior, Environment and Related Agencies Appropriations Act directs that the money be used for the “development and advancement of interoperable health information technology,” ONC’s funding level would see a reduction of almost $22 million from the $60 million it was appropriated for Fiscal Year 2017, which ends September 30.

The House of Representatives is not currently in session because of its August recess, but lawmakers will return in September to vote on the bill.

However, ONC is not the only health IT-related agency facing a potentially significant decrease in its budget. The Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality is also on the congressional chopping block.

AHRQ, which supports important health services research addressing patient safety and healthcare quality as well as the application of HIT, would be limited to just $300 million in FY18—a $34 million cut compared with last year.

Nonetheless, the funding reduction is a far cry from consolidating AHRQ into the National Institutes of Health in order to eliminate duplication and redundancies, which is what the Trump administration called for in its “America First” budget blueprint released in March.

Also See: Trump ‘America First’ budget plan calls for $15.1B cut to HHS

The big winner in the proposed House legislation is the Food and Drug Administration, which would receive a $5.15 billion budget, up $500 million from FY 2017. The potential increase comes as the FDA looks to update its current policies and issue new guidance on several of the medical software provisions in the 21st Century Cures Act.

The agency plans to issue draft guidance on the implementation of the Cures Act for public comment by the end of 2017. In addition, it intends to issue new guidance that delineates the clinical decision support software that is no longer under the agency’s jurisdiction, with the goal of releasing the draft guidance for public comment during the first quarter of 2018.

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