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House Subcommittee Proposes Flat 2014 NIH Funding, Termination of AHRQ

NEW YORK (GenomeWeb News) – A key subcommittee in the US House of Representatives has agreed on a bill that would keep the budget for the National Institutes of Health flat at $30.6 billion in 2013. The proposal would be a very marginal cut from the $30.7 billion that was recently approved by the Senate Appropriations Committee, and which President Barack Obama requested early this year in his 2013 budget.

All of the three funding proposals would amount to flat funding for NIH, with none of them enabling the agency to keep pace with the rise in biomedical inflation, which has been estimated to be between 2.2 and 2.9 percent next year.

For a year in which government spending and deficits are a central topic in a presidential campaign and in races for Congressional seats, and for a bill from the subcommittee on Labor, Health and Human Services, Education, and Related Agencies that cuts a total of $6.3 billion compared to last year, NIH's funding survived relatively unscathed. That suggests that NIH may be viewed seen as a priority across Congress and in the White House.

As it is currently drafted, this bill contains some broad provisions that make it unlikely to pass the Senate, such as defunding of the Affordable Care Act, unless a new president is sworn in next year, but the closeness in the NIH funding level between the House and Senate bills and the White House suggest that $30.6 to $30.7 billion could be the ballpark level for NIH's appropriation next year.

Under the House proposal, funding for the National Human Genome Research Institute also would be essentially flat next year, with the institute seeing a very small dip to $512.3 million compared to $512.7 million this year.

United for Medical Research, an advocacy group that tracks biomedical inflation and supports more funding for NIH, said this week that the flat budget amounts to a cut, and said it is "extremely disappointed" in the proposal. UMR said that the cut would affect not only science but the US economy as well.

“While NIH funds are an indispensable component of our efforts to lessen the burden of disease and its associated health care costs, the dollars also play a significant role in state and local employment," UMR said, citing its own recent report which showed that NIH extramural research supported nearly a half million jobs and produced $62 billion in new economic activity in 2011.

The bill also would cut all funding for and terminate the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality, and would rescind any funding that the agency received but which it has not yet spent. Under the proposal, other agencies may be able to continue some AHRQ research projects, so long as doing so does not expand their authorities or duplicate other agencies' efforts.

Darrell Kirch, President and CEO of the Association of American Medical Colleges, in a statement this week called the plan to eliminate AHRG "particularly troubling."

Kirch said AHRQ "supports initiatives to improve patient safety, eliminate health disparities, and provide other health services research such as the 'Keystone Project,' which has proven to reduce central-line blood stream infections and deaths in hospitals. Eliminating AHRQ would devastate ongoing efforts to improve the quality and effectiveness of patient care."

It is not immediately clear when the bill may be taken up by the full House.

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