Senate, House pass omnibus bill boosting funding for HIT-enabled medical research

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The Senate and House have passed an omnibus spending bill funding the federal government through the end of September that includes $37 billion for the National Institutes of Health—an increase of $3 billion above the fiscal year 2017 enacted level—including several critical health IT-enabled research initiatives.

The House approved the $1.3 trillion spending package on Thursday in a 256-167 vote, while the Senate passed it just after midnight Friday in a 65-32 vote that averted a government shutdown. The bill now goes to President Trump for his signature.

The legislation provides substantial increases for major NIH research initiatives that leverage HIT, including: $400 million (an increase of $140 million) for the Brain Research through Application of Innovative Neurotechnologies (BRAIN) initiative, as well as $290 million (an increase of $60 million) for the All of Us research initiative—previously called the Precision Medicine Initiative.

The BRAIN Initiative is a large-scale NIH program to push the boundaries of neuroscience research and equip scientists with insights from big data necessary for treating a wide variety of brain disorders such as Alzheimer’s disease, autism, epilepsy, and schizophrenia. Funding is being used to create a network of integrated centers, collaborating laboratories, and data resources in order to make molecular, anatomical, and functional data about brain cells available to the broader research community.

NIH’s All of Us research program is attempting to recruit more than one million American participants for the longitudinal study to contribute their physical, genomic, and electronic health record data. In addition to providing blood and urine samples as well as access to EHRs, information will be collected from volunteers in the program through mobile technology, physical measurements, and surveys. According to NIH, the goal is to create one of the largest and most diverse datasets of its kind for health research.

In addition, the omnibus bill passed by the Senate and House earmarks $300 million for the Cancer Moonshot initiative. The goal of the Cancer Moonshot initiative is to achieve a decade’s worth of progress against the disease in just five years. Data sharing is critical to the effort and will require HIT systems and software applications to communicate with one another and exchange data to derive actionable insights.

“Research!America applauds the unprecedented boost in funding for the National Institutes of Health and significant increases for other federal health agencies in FY18 to accelerate medical progress, public health and scientific innovation,” said the nonprofit public education and advocacy alliance. “The increase will enable the NIH to expand and sustain innovative initiatives that will deepen our understanding of complex diseases, furthering efforts to eradicate many of these health threats.”

The Office of the National Coordinator for Health IT also stands to benefit from the omnibus bill. While the President’s Fiscal Year 2018 budget request for ONC was $38 million, down from $60 million in FY17, the legislation passed by the Senate and House maintains funding for the agency at the $60 million level.

“For expenses necessary for the Office of the National Coordinator for Health Information Technology, including grants, contracts, and cooperative agreements for the development and advancement of interoperable health information technology, $60,367,000,” states legislative language in the bill.

Also See: Trump budget plan would slash ONC funding, reorder its priorities

Last year, the American Medical Informatics Association and The Pew Charitable Trusts wrote to the House and Senate subcommittees overseeing ONC, urging lawmakers to ensure that the agency had sufficient funding to carry out its work under the 21st Century Cures Act including several provisions related to health IT interoperability.

Another winner in the omnibus bill is the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality, which supports health services research addressing patient safety and healthcare quality as well as the application of HIT. The legislation provides $334 million for AHRQ, which is $10 million above the fiscal year 2017 enacted level.

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