Congress is scheduled to vote on a $1.1 trillion spending bill Friday that would avert a government shutdown until next October and fund almost all federal activities.
But like just about any bill in Congress, this one’s full of little goodies and pet projects that can have a big effect on medical research and health and science policies.
Here’s a look at some of the medical winners and losers in the bill:
The National Institutes of Health is a big winner, getting a $2 billion, 6.6 percent funding increase, to $32 billion for 2016.
The bill doesn’t defund the health provider, despite promises from many lawmakers to do just that.
Public health agencies get $72 million to prepare for a flu pandemic. This includes permission for the government to help private companies build new vaccine production facilities.
The Food and Drug Administration gets $2.72 billion, $132 million more than last year. That includes a $104.5 million increase for food safety – almost the $110 million the agency says it needs to implement new rules to fight foodborne disease outbreaks that sicken 48 million Americans every year.
Antibiotic resistance efforts
The bill includes $375 million to various agencies to battle antibiotic resistant germs.
It renews a provision that requires Medicare and Medicaid to pay for mammograms for women starting at age 40, despite federal recommendations that the breast cancer screenings can wait until women are 50.
USDA may not license "class B dealers who sell dogs and cats for use in research, experiments, teaching, or testing." The provision is aimed at brokers believed to haunt animal shelters looking to sell unwanted pets for medical research.
The bill is full of digs at the Affordable Care Act, commonly referred to as Obamacare. It delays the so-called Cadillac tax on the most generous health insurance plans, costing the government an estimated $87 billion in revenue from 2018, when it was supposed to kick in, through 2025.
It also holds up a tax against medical devices, which device makers have been fighting against for years. And it slashes money for risk corridors, which compensate insurance companies that get stuck with sicker-than-expected patients. Insurance companies had insisted on this provision in return for the health care law’s requirement that they take all comers, no matter how sick they are.
The joint USDA/FDA food guidelines, which come out every five years, were due by the end of December. The bill holds that up after a big fight over an advisory panel's recommendations that included limiting salt, eating less meat and, most controversially, eating a plant-based diet that protects the environment. Now the agencies cannot release their guidelines until they can show they are “based on significant scientific agreement; and … limited in scope to nutritional and dietary information”.
Congress is preventing the Agriculture Department from putting into effect any rule cutting sodium levels in federally provided meals “until the latest scientific research establishes the reduction is beneficial for children.”
The FDA delayed its plan to require restaurants to add calorie counts to menus. The bill makes sure the calorie counts stay off menus for now.
Some members of Congress were horrified by reports about an easier way to genetically modify plants and animals called gene editing. The bill specifically prohibits FDA from even looking at a plan to genetically modify a human embryo. Experts say this effectively bars even a private company from trying to market such a treatment since it would need FDA approval if it were used on an embryo intended to create a pregnancy. It wouldn’t stop privately funded lab research, however.
“None of the funds made available in this title may be used, in whole or in part, to advocate or promote gun control,” the bill reads. Health agencies such as the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention have taken this over the years as a warning not to undertake any research on gun deaths.
FDA won’t be able to allow the sale of genetically modified salmon until it has a plan for labeling the fish. And out of FDA’s budget “not less than $150,000 shall be used to develop labeling guidelines and implement a program to disclose to consumers whether salmon offered for sale to consumers is a genetically engineered variety.” When FDA approved GM salmon last month it said companies didn’t have to label it, provoking the fury of anti-GMO groups.