Healthcare, Research Could See Big Increases in 2022 Federal Budget

Lawmakers are proposing to spend billions more on some key health and science programs, but it’s a long way to the finish line.

While Congress works to approve President Biden’s “Build Back Better” plan, lawmakers are also working on a federal budget for 2022 with major implications for healthcare and hospitals.

Lawmakers are crafting spending bills that could offer big increases for medical research and healthcare programs. Both House and Senate Democrats are proposing substantial increases for the National Institutes of Health, the federal government’s primary source of funding for biomedical research.

The 2022 spending plan could also include more money for public health programs.

Overall, the federal budget could be a bonanza for research programs, said Karen Fisher, chief public policy officer for the Association of American Medical Colleges.

“We know President Biden is a very, very strong proponent of research, particularly cancer research,” Fisher said at a Nov. 10 session on politics at AAMC’s annual conference.

Democrats are working largely on their own to pass the $1.7 trillion “Build Back Better” package, which could offer hefty increases for healthcare. But the federal budget process will require some bipartisan support, notably in the Senate.

The Senate is evenly split between Democrats and Republicans. Democrats control the chamber - Vice President Kamala Harris can cast a tie-breaking vote. But a budget bill is going to need 60 votes in the Senate, Fisher noted. Federal research programs have enjoyed bipartisan support in the past.

Fisher pointed to a looming deadline for lawmakers: the federal government is only funded for a few more weeks. In September, Congress approved a short-term spending bill to fund the federal government through Dec. 3. It’s conceivable Biden and lawmakers could approve another short-term funding measure.

Fisher said she hopes lawmakers can come to an agreement on the 2022 budget before the end of the year or early next year. If the budget talks go too far into the spring, it raises the possibility lawmakers may simply vote to keep federal programs funded at their current levels, she said.

Some of the healthcare and research proposals from House Democrats typically have bigger numbers. But if the Senate Democratic proposals ultimately were approved, healthcare and research programs would still see hefty increases.

Here’s a look at what the 2022 spending proposals offer for healthcare and research, including some of the current funding levels being discussed. As lawmakers move the budget legislation forward, the numbers could change.

NIH

The National Institutes of Health would get billions more in either the Senate or House plans.

The NIH’s current budget is $42.9 billion. The Senate draft plan would direct $47.9 billion to the NIH. Under the House Democrats’ proposal, the NIH would get $49.4B, the AAMC said. Some of the money in the House and Democratic proposals would go to a new research agency.

Biden has proposed the creation of a new health research agency in the NIH: the Advanced Research Projects Agency for Health. The White House said the new agency would finance “high risk, high reward” projects aimed at biomedical breakthroughs. For health research, It’s envisioned to serve in a similar fashion as the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency, which helped lead the development of the Internet and stealth technology

House Democrats are proposing $3 billion for the new health research agency; Senate Democrats are looking at $2.4 billion.

CDC

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention would see major increases under the proposals. The CDC’s current budget is $7.9 billion. The Senate Democrats would direct $9.7 billion to the CDC (an increase of 23.6%); the House Democrats would offer $10.6 billion (an increase of 34.2%).

National Science Foundation

The NSF, which finances basic research, receives $8.5 billion. Both House and Senate Democrats propose boosting the agency’s budget to $9.5 billion, an increase of 12%.

Hospital preparedness

The federal budget currently directs $280.6 million for the hospital preparedness program. Senate Democrats are looking to spend $296.8 million on the program; House Democrats would move it up to $320 million.

AHRQ

The Agency for Health Research and Quality, which is charged with improving the nation’s healthcare system, currently gets $338 million. The AHRQ would see an increase of 12% under both the House and Senate Democratic plans, lifting the agency’s budget to $380 million.

VA Research

Both House and Senate Democratic plans offer increases in research programs for the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs. VA research currently receives $815 million. A Senate Democrat draft would direct $882 million for VA research, while House Democrats would offer $904 million.