By Lyle Dennis, JD, Cavarocchi – Ruscio – Dennis Associates, Consultants to AASLD
Between the day this article is written and the day you are reading it, the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) will be holding a “listening session” on the next iteration of the National Viral Hepatitis Action Plan that governs the Department’s actions with regard to addressing the epidemic of viral hepatitis.
This session follows on a nationwide conference call held earlier this year and will be followed by a Request for Information (RFI) to be published in the Federal Register in the coming months asking for written comments on the plan.
AASLD has been monitoring this activity and is in frequent contact with the Office of HIV/AIDS and Infectious Disease Policy (OHAIDP), which is located in the Office of the Assistant Secretary for Health (OASH). Late last year, the leadership of the Association met with the Assistant Secretary, Dr. Brett Giroir, in his office in Washington and the office’s Chief Medical Officer, Dr. Vanila Singh, spoke at a session at The Liver Meeting® in San Francisco.
When the RFI is published, the Public Policy Committee (working through its viral hepatitis subcommittee) will draft comments for review by the full PPC and then by the Governing Board that will become AASLD’s official submission on this process.
The development of direct acting agents (DAAs) a few years ago, combined with the availability of a vaccine for hepatitis B, held out promise for the rapid diminishment of viral hepatitis. But the onset of the opioid epidemic led to a rapid increase in injection drug use – and all that that means for the spread of hepatitis.
This combination of factors makes the development of a new and updated NVHAP all the more critical. In our meeting with Dr. Giroir, he made it clear how much he personally and the Office more broadly, values AASLD’s input and assistance.
And on Another Front…
With the completion of the last of the FY19 appropriations bills, Congress is ready to turn its attention to FY20. The 35-day government shutdown delayed the introduction of the administration’s budget to Congress – since two-thirds of the employees of the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) were among those furloughed during the shutdown.
We now expect to see that document on March 11. It will, of course, be declared “dead on arrival” in Congress which is not about to accept up to $55 billion in cuts to non-defense spending, which the budget is likely to promote.
The health research advocacy community, of which AASLD is part, is seeking an increase in NIH’s funding of $2.5 billion, up to $41.6 billion, or a 6.4 percent increase. Before that can happen, Congress will have to raise the statutory budget caps that were enacted in 2011 to provide room for the additional funds. It will likely be another full year of wrangling between the Congress and the Administration before the issue is resolved. As they say, watch this space!