The National Institutes of Health (NIH) would receive a $1.1 billion boost in 2016 under a draft measure released by a House of Representatives spending panel today. That 3.6% increase, to $31.2 billion, is $100 million more than the president’s request.
But although good news for NIH, the bill would also abolish the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality (AHRQ), which supports studies of evidence-based medicine. As a result, the bill released by a House appropriations subcommittee is drawing a mixed reaction from the biomedical research community.
“While we appreciate the committee’s recognition of the critical importance of NIH-funded research, there are aspects of the bill that we find very troubling,” particularly the elimination of AHRQ, says Dave Moore, senior director for government relations for the Association of American Medical Colleges (AAMC) in Washington, D.C.
Much of the new NIH funding would go for specific projects. Research on Alzheimer’s disease would receive $300 million in new funds, about $250 million more than the president’s request. The bill also matches the president’s request for $100 million for NIH’s piece of a federal antibiotic resistance initiative and $200 million for President Barack Obama’s Precision Medicine Initiative. The multiagency BRAIN project would get $95 million, $25 million more than the president’s request.
The bill allocates $312 million for the Institutional Development Awards, about $38.5 million above than the president’s request for this program for states with relatively little NIH funding. And $165 million would go to what the bill calls the “National Children’s Study Alternative.” That apparently refers to NIH’s plans for research to support the goals of the giant National Children’s Study that the agency canceled last December.
While welcoming the increase for NIH, AAMC is dismayed that the bill reduces by 8% the maximum salary of $183,300 that NIH grants can currently support. A few years ago, Congress trimmed the cap back from an even higher level, putting the burden on universities and other institutions receiving extramural funding to make up any difference.
And the elimination of the $465 million AHRQ—it would close down on 1 October 1—is a major concern, Moore says. House appropriators also tried to abolish AHRQ 3 years ago, but ultimately failed. AAMC is also worried about a $100 million cut to the Patient-Centered Outcomes Research Trust Fund, which supports studies of which medical treatments work best.
The draft bill will be considered tomorrow by the House appropriations Subcommittee on Labor, Health and Human Services, Education, and Related Agencies. The measure will then go to a full committee vote next week. The corresponding Senate panel is expected to release its version of the bill next week. After votes by the full House and Senate, the two chambers will then need to reconcile the bills.
NIH boosters are hopeful that the agency will receive another $2 billion next year from funding sources separate from the regular appropriations process if Congress passes 21st Century Cures, a measure awaiting a vote by the full House. A Senate panel has yet to introduce its version of that bill.