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Congress proposes $90.5 billion in HHS appropriations, including opioid funding

(Updated at 6:30 p.m. ET)

Congressional appropriators on Thursday approved $90.5 billion in HHS appropriations in a spending package that includes $3.8 billion in opioids funding.

Congress designated $1.5 billion of the opioid funds to state response grants to replace the $500 million from the 21st Century Cures Act due to expire in May of 2019. The funding comes as the Senate heads for a Monday vote on its major opioids package.

All told, HHS got a $2.3 billion funding increase over last year. Community health centers will get a $65 million increase for their behavioral and mental health and addiction treatment services, a total of $200 million. Congress is also boosting opioid funding for rural communities by $15 million for a total of $130 million in grants.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) will get $476 million to run a public awareness campaign about opioid abuse and to work on opioid overdose prevention and surveillance. The measure authorizes a $5 million initiative to fight infectious diseases related to opioid use and $2 million to gather more data on neonatal abstinence syndrome.

Congress is also pushing for opioid alternatives with $500 million for research and development of non-opioid pain medication and pain management, as well as addiction treatment — in addition to the $774 million in base funding for similar research at the National Institutes of Health (NIH).

The package left out policy riders including a mandate for drugmakers to disclose prices in their television ads in order to ensure it will pass by Sept. 30 before the start of the new fiscal year.

"I am proud we have removed all the unnecessary and deeply partisan policy riders," Rep. Nita Lowey (D-N.Y.) said.

One of those poison pills for House lawmakers was the amendment by Senate Minority Whip Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) and Sen. Charles Grassley (R-Iowa) to force price disclosure in direct drug advertising. The Senate passed the measure by unanimous consent.

Durbin introduced the amendment again before the conference committee Thursday and quoted a tweet from President Donald Trump that urged congressional support for the bill.

"I don't often quote the president's tweets, but I'm going to at this moment," Durbin said, adding: "When are we finally going to stand up to Big Pharma?"

But Durbin withdrew the proposal after lead Senate appropriators voted against it in order to secure House passage for the appropriations package.

"I hope that we would not blow things up now that we are so close," Senate Appropriations Chair Richard Shelby (R-Ala.) said.

Lawmakers attached the spending "mini-bus" that covers HHS, defense, education and labor bills with a continuing budget resolution to fund the remaining departments until Dec. 7—a move that could avert a potential presidential veto and government shutdown. President Donald Trump threatened to veto the bill if Congress doesn't pass the border wall funding he requested.

The spending bill includes provisions to address the Trump administration's halted family separation policy, setting standards of care for immigrant children in federal custody.

"We will pursue the costs related to the policy and be vigilant as to where the dollars are coming from," Rep. Rosa DeLauro (D-Conn.) said.

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