House appropriations bill cuts ONC budget by $17.7M

The Office of the National Coordinator for Health IT (ONC) would see a $17.7 million budget cut under a proposed budget from the House Appropriations Committee.

The ONC would receive $42.7 million in total funding for fiscal year 2019 under the proposal. The 29% reduction is smaller than cuts previously proposed by the White House, which proposed slashing the agency’s budget by $22 million.

A government spending bill passed earlier this year maintained ONC’s funding at $60.4 million through September 2018.

Overall, the House Appropriations Committee’s draft funding bill added $1 billion to the Department of Health and Human Services’ budget and $2.4 billion more than the Trump administration requested.

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Although the House bill offers a comparatively softer cut than previous years, health IT groups were quick to point out ONC’s added responsibilities under the 21st Century Cures Act. Jeff Smith, vice president of public policy at the American Medical Informatics Association (AMIA) said he was disappointed in “what appears to be a continuation of stagnating support.”

“Whether you look at the burgeoning influence of consumer technology in the medical space, the continued digitization of research, or the numerous aspects of Cures yet to be implemented, ONC has the kind of workload that demands more resources, not less,” he told FierceHealthcare.

"Congress has played an important role in protecting ONC and other parts of HHS from the draconian budget proposals of the White House," he added. "Insofar as Cures implementation and interoperability remain important to Congress, so too should fully funding ONC."

Leslie Krigstein, vice president of congressional affairs at the College of Healthcare Information Management Executives (CHIME) acknowledged the proposed funding level is “certainly better than what was initially proposed last year,” but said the agency won’t be able to properly execute new directives.

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“CHIME recognizes the challenges the federal government faces as it balances the numerous needs within HHS with its responsibility to use taxpayers’ money wisely,” she said. “Nonetheless, ONC should be funded adequately to carry out their 21st Century Cures Act duties along with helping the industry achieve interoperability.”

The bill comes as the federal health officials have adamantly pushed for better interoperability across the healthcare industry. Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) Administrator Seema Verma, in particular, has advocated for better patient access to healthcare data, and ONC continues to play a supporting role in that effort.