Precision medicine, telehealth get a boost in budget bill; ONC maintains funding levels

A proposed $1 trillion federal spending package released late Sunday evening includes additional funding for precision medicine research and telehealth programs, while maintaining funding for the Office of the National Coordinator for Health IT.

Despite deep fissures between both political parties, Democrats and Republicans agreed on a bill (PDF) that would fund the government through September. The proposal (PDF), which will go to a House vote this week, sharply contrasts President Donald Trump’s budget blueprint and sets the stage for what is likely to be an intense battle over 2018 funding.

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The package impacts three specific health IT programs:

  • The bill includes $320 million for the Precision Medicine Initiative, a $120 million boost from 2016 funding levels. The new funding is part of a $2 billion increase for the National Institutes of Health, which was staring down a $1.2 billion cut in Trump’s skinny budget that some worried would be detrimental to precision medicine research.

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  • Telehealth funding for rural health providers would see a $1.5 million increase, bringing the program’s total to $18.5 million. The program provides grants for rural hospitals to purchase telehealth equipment and conduct pilot projects to coordinate care for patients in rural areas of the country.

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  • ONC, which was noticeably absent from Trump’s skinny budget, maintains its budget of just over $60 million. But that isn’t likely to alleviate concerns expressed by industry representatives.

During a meeting with a group of reporters on Friday, including FierceHealthcare, HIMSS representatives took issue with the ONC’s flatline budget and the agency’s ability to deliver on requirements within the 21st Century Cures Act. They also expressed concern over Trump’s proposed cuts to NIH that could impact the Precision Medicine Initiative.

“I think the budget obviously is a concern,” Tom Leary, vice president of government relations at HIMSS said on Friday. “It does raise some red flags.”

AHIMA has also raised concerns about ONC funding, voicing preemptive concerns that the 2018 budget won’t include enough funding for the agency to implement 21st Century Cures requirements.