Senate Approves $123B Labor-HHS Appropriations Measure
The Senate yesterday approved the Labor-HHS-Education appropriations bill (HR 3061) on a 90-7 vote, providing spending increases for the NIH and other programs, the New York Times reports. The House approved the bill on Wednesday (Pear, New York Times, 12/21). The bill includes the following:
- $23.3 billion for the NIH;
- $4.3 billion for the CDC;
- $299 million for the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality;
- $175 million for community health centers;
- $5 million for organ transplant programs at the Health Resources and Services Administration; and
- $3.1 billion for Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration programs (HHS release, 12/20).
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Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.), ranking member of the Senate Commerce Committee, decried what he called "pork projects" totaling nearly $1 billion of the $123 billion bill, CongressDaily reports. Among the projects he cited was $150,000 for a California therapeutic horseback riding program that helps children with mental retardation and $1 million for a London Shakespeare museum. House Labor-HHS Appropriations subcommittee Chair Tom Harkin (D-Iowa) defended some of the bill's 1,600 individual earmarks, but McCain said that most of the projects benefited states of legislators on the House Appropriations Committee and "shortchanged" other states. Supporters of the Mental Health Equitable Treatment Act of 2001 (S 543) also were "unhappy" with the final Labor-HHS appropriations bill (Rovner, CongressDaily, 12/20). On Tuesday members of a House-Senate conference committee voted against adding the parity measure to the Labor-HHS appropriations bill and instead approved extending the 1996 mental health parity law by one year. The amendment would have been an expansion of the 1996 law, which expired on Sept. 30. That law prohibited private insurers from establishing annual and lifetime limits on mental health benefits, unless those same limits applied to other medical illnesses. The new bill would have attempted to close loopholes in the 1996 law by requiring insurers that provide mental health coverage to offer those benefits at the same level as the benefits provided for physical health coverage with respect both to costs (such as deductibles) and to access to services. Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee Chair Edward Kennedy (D-Mass.) said, "The collective will of the Congress has been flagrantly disregarded," adding that the parity measure had been approved unanimously by his committee last summer and had the backing of 67 senators and 244 House members (CongressDaily, 12/20).