The Republican-led Congress and Democratic White House just closed out a surprisingly productive year in 2015, marked by the long-fought repeal of the Medicare physician payment system and passage of a $1.15 trillion spending bill that included a $2-billion increase for the National Institutes of Health (NIH) – two of the Endocrine Society’s top legislative priorities.
Now, the question is what will Congress and the president be able to accomplish this year? The general school of thought is that nothing gets done in Washington during a presidential election year, and, in addition, Congress is too divided to agree on anything. But, others argue with the president seeking to burnish his legacy and both the presidency and control of the Senate at stake, some modest legislative compromises could happen. Even President Obama noted during his final State of the Union address in January that he and the Republican Congress “just might surprise the cynics again.”
While the State of the Union message avoided contentious health policy proposals, a signature element was the President’s call for a concerted research effort towards a cure for cancer. The presidential directive dovetails with ongoing congressional development of legislation (HR 6) seeking an overhaul of the process for enticing medical advances and spurring federal medical research.
President Obama tapped Vice President Joe Biden to lead this new effort to secure additional funding for cancer research and tagged the initiative as comparable to the 1960’s project to land on the moon. The call for research funding was also joined by a plea for new funding this year to end HIV/AIDs – a prospect the president noted “that’s within our grasp,” plus added resources to attack malaria.
New funding for cancer research could gain congressional approval this year because policy analysts agree that curing cancer may be the one thing the entire Congress agrees. Legislation to make it easier to move devices and treatments through the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) process more rapidly, however, is still likely to be a heavy lift. While the House of Representatives was able to pass legislation, the Senate panel already blew by self-imposed deadlines to release a draft and hold a markup before the end of 2015. Further, disputes are likely over whether to create – and how to pay for – a mandatory pool of money designated for the NIH and FDA.
What is clear, however, is that if there is to be bipartisan agreement on any health legislation it will need to happen quickly during a narrow window before Congress clears out for campaigns and political conventions this summer.
The Endocrine Society will continue to work with lawmakers on its priorities, including steady and sustainable increases in federal funding for biomedical research, improve federal research policies to reflect endocrine priorities, obtain appropriate reimbursement for endocrinologists and develop new care models that value the role of endocrinologists, and obtain better access and coverage for diabetes and other endocrine diseases. We will keep members apprised of developments in future issues of Endocrine News and Endocrine Insider.
—Mila Becker, JD, Chief Policy Officer, Endocrine Society