Spending bill includes boost in funding for NIH research, opioid programs, but skips ACA fixes 

U.S. Capitol with flag
Congress has unveiled its 2018 omnibus spending bill. (Getty/Andrea Izzotti)

Congress unveiled its 2018 omnibus spending bill Wednesday night, and it includes additional funding for research into diseases and the opioid epidemic. 

The bill (PDF) would provide $88.1 billion in discretionary funding for the Department of Health and Human Services for 2018, which is $10.1 billion more than fiscal year 2017. This includes a $3 billion increase to the National Institutes of Health's research budget, bringing NIH's total funding allocation to $37 billion. 

Sen. Roy Blunt, R-Mo., who chairs the Appropriation Committee's Subcommittee on Labor, Health and Human Services, Education and Related Committees, said in a statement that the increased funding reflects bipartisan support for NIH. The agency, he said, has received funding increases over the past three years following a decade of cuts that slashed its allocation by more than 20%. 

Free Daily Newsletter

Like this story? Subscribe to FierceHealthcare!

The healthcare sector remains in flux as policy, regulation, technology and trends shape the market. FierceHealthcare subscribers rely on our suite of newsletters as their must-read source for the latest news, analysis and data impacting their world. Sign up today to get healthcare news and updates delivered to your inbox and read on the go.

"Investments in medical research will pave the way for new treatments and cures, lower costs and, most importantly, give hope to patients and families battling incurable diseases," Blunt said. 

Part of NIH's funding increases is a $500 million initiative that targets opioid addiction. The opioid crisis was a major appropriation focus, with more than $4 billion to be divvied up among several opioid projects. 

RELATED: Spending bill to allow CDC to conduct gun violence research

The largest chunk—$1 billion—will be allocated to states and Native American tribes through grants to back programs combatting the epidemic. An additional $350 million will be sent to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention for prevention and study efforts, for a total of $476 million. 

Plus, Congress plans (PDF) to allocate $284 million toward increasing the law enforcement response to the addiction crisis. President Donald Trump wants a more robust law enforcement effort on opioids, according to a plan released this week by the White House. He said he wants to "get tough" on drug dealers, and has been pushing for increased use of the death penalty for people who traffic drugs. 

Other healthcare programs will also see a boost under the spending plan. Community health centers will receive an additional $135 million compared to fiscal year 2017, bringing their total to $1.63 billion. 

Rural healthcare is also a particular focus in the bill. Congress plans to nearly double the amount of money provided to rural healthcare programs, increasing the allocation by $135 million to $290.8 million. That funding includes telehealth programs, drug addiction programs and grants designed to improve outreach and flexibility. 

RELATED: No funding for ACA exchanges in long-awaited spending bill 

Despite a number of healthcare programs making the bill, Congress left out plans to stabilize the Affordable Care Act's exchanges. A partisan dispute over language on abortion derailed those discussions.

Sen. Patty Murray, D-Wash., who led the discussions from that side of the aisle, said in a statement that it was "deeply frustrating" that ACA fixes failed to make the omnibus bill following the partisan spat. 

"I'm going to keep pushing [Sen. Mitch McConnell and Speaker Paul Ryan] to reconsider and allow Republicans to work with Democrats on healthcare polices that actually help deliver what patients and families want: lower healthcare costs," Murray said.