Tom Price says NIH has plenty of room to make cuts

About 30 percent of NIH grant funds go towards expenses that are not research related, the HHS Secretary said Wednesday.
By Susan Morse
11:58 AM
Tom Price

Health and Human Services Secretary Tom Price told a House subcommittee Wednesday that "indirect expenses" at the National Institutes of Health could be targeted as a way to meet the Trump administration's planned 18 percent cut to the HHS budget.

"I was struck by the need for efficiencies and decreasing duplication and the like in our entire department," Price said. "I was struck by one thing at NIH. That is that about 30 percent of the grant money that goes out is used for indirect expenses, which as you know means that that money goes for something other than the research that's being done."'

[Also: Researchers call Trump's proposed NIH cuts 'shocking']

The goal is to focus on the things that work, do away with inefficiencies and duplication and give a larger return for the taxpayer, he said.

"It's trying to bring focus to the kinds of things that we ought to be able to do, to get a bigger bang for our buck if you will," Price told the Appropriations Subcommittee for Labor, Health and Human Services, Education and Related Agencies.

The HHS budget proposal cuts 18 percent, or $15 billion dollars, for a total $69 billion discretionary budget.

NIH comprises about a third of HHS's discretionary budget. The proposed $25 billion funding level would retain its place as representing a third of the proposed budget for the department, according to Price.

Subcommittee Chairman Tom Cole, a Republican from Oklahoma, told Price he was concerned about how the planned cuts would affect NIH's biomedical research.

But Price said he supported the research and valued the work of those scientists.

Two weeks ago, President Trump released a budget blueprint that requests $69 billion for discretionary spending at HHS.

This means prioritizing critical programs and proposing the elimination of programs duplicative or ineffective, Price said. 

"The vision for HHS has only been laid out in broad strokes," Price said. "Specific decisions on programs and account levels are still under consideration. Those details, as well as proposals on mandatory spending, will be included in president's full 2018 budget proposal which is expected in mid-May."

HHS will continue to invest $500 million in the 21st Century Cures Act, he said.

Other priorities include mental health and substance abuse, emergency response to such threats as the Zika virus and Avian flu, including the creation of a new emergency response fund, and combating childhood obesity.

Nearly 20 percent of school-aged children in the United States are obese, he said.

President Donald Trump's budget aims to rein in federal spending while also offsetting a proposed $54 billion increase in defense spending.

The budget slashes $6 billion from the NIH while merging the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality into that agency.

AHRQ's research has become more important in recent years as value-based reimbursement arrangements tie payment to clinical quality.

Twitter: @SusanJMorse

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