HHS leadership was back on the Hill on Tuesday morning as Congress continues to weigh the Trump administration's 2020 budget proposal.
The House Budget Committee hosted Department Health and Human Services Deputy Secretary Eric Hargan for a budget hearing, and skeptical Democrats on the panel called the plan a series of mixed messages and a threat to more than 7.2 million low-income seniors.
“Instead of investing in protecting healthcare and improving programs millions of Americans rely on, the 2020 budget calls for a 12% cut to the agency’s discretionary budget and cuts on net $1.4 trillion from mandatory healthcare spending, including Medicaid and Medicare,” the committee said in a statement before the hearing.
Hargan said that HHS had the largest discretionary budget in the country behind defense in 2018, making prioritization necessary. Some of the priorities of the proposed budget include budget reforms for patient-centered healthcare, access to affordable prescription drugs, and a value-based payment system for outpatient and ambulatory services.
Plus, Hargan noted that the plan adds funding for combating opioid addiction, HIV/AIDS and pediatric cancer.
But members of the committee fought back, calling the budget hypocritical. For example, the budget calls for a $291 million investment in HIV/AIDS, but a $769 million cut to the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, which is responsible for most of the research on this disease, Democrats said. And the budget calls for an additional $50 million for pediatric cancer but cuts the National Cancer Institute by $897 million.
The budget would also provide $1.5 billion for state opioid response grants but cuts Medicaid by $1.5 trillion—the main source of health coverage for four out of every 10 adults with this addiction, committee members said.
During his opening statements, Chairman John Yarmuth, D-Ky., said that ending the ACA would leave millions of people without coverage. Specifically, he noted that in his home state of Kentucky, half a million people were covered under Medicaid expansion last year, "making it clear to the American public that this president has zero interest in protecting their healthcare in any form.”
The “message doesn’t match the math,” Yarmuth said. Instead, the call for $1.5 billion for opioid response and $291 million for HIV/AIDS eradication amount to little more than “token investment to get good headlines,” he said.
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Republicans on the committee backed up Hargan, saying rising healthcare costs prove that cuts are necessary in some areas. Ranking Member Stephen Womack, R-Ark., said that the cost of hospital care increased by 30.7% in 2018 and noted that healthcare will soon account for just under 20% of the GDP. He said the White House made “tough choices for today and the future.”
He said the level of opioid funding is historic and lauded the administration's goal of eradicating 90% of new HIV/AIDS infections in the next decade. And he said the Medicaid cuts are common-sense reforms to get rid of waste, fraud and abuse in the system.
Womack concluded: “I’m fearful that my colleagues on other side of the aisle will make a grim reality even worse, adding trillions of dollars to national debt, eliminating choices and raising taxes.”