Just before funding for the federal government was set to expire, President Joe Biden signed the Consolidated Appropriations Act of 2023. The nearly $1.7 trillion federal spending bill averts a government shutdown and officially keeps the federal government operating through the end of September 2023.

The 4,155 page long bill represented the final opportunity for Biden and Democrats to put their imprint on government spending before Republicans assumed the majority in the House.  As a result, the legislation included a number of key administration priorities related to healthcare. Here are the three that matter the most:

1. Funding for healthcare-related agencies

The omnibus package funds several federal agencies that are critical to the U.S. healthcare system. Specifically, the new package provides $120.7 billion to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), an increase of nearly $10 billion. HHS administers key healthcare functions, including Healthcare.gov, Medicare, and Medicaid as well as the National Institutes of Health, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

At the forefront of this increased funding is drug discovery, with $50 Billion being allocated to disease research on Alzheimer’s, Cancer, Diabetes, and Opioid Addiction.  Agencies like the National Institutes of Health (NIH) and Advanced Research Projects Agency for Health (ARPA-H) will be relied on to accelerate existing research and the development of scientific breakthroughs.

2. Extension of Telehealth Flexibilities

To ensure continued access to telehealth, the new law extends flexibilities that were put in place during the immediate aftermath of the pandemic.  Previously, these laws were set to expire but are now being extended through December 31, 2024.

For example, telehealth services can continue to be delivered to patients wherever they are located, including at home, rather than being limited to certain pre-approved healthcare facilities. Additionally, restrictions on healthcare provider licensing requirements will continue to be relaxed, allowing providers to provide remote services even if the provider is not licensed in the state where the patient resides.

3. A Boost for Mental Health

The omnibus spending package includes funding for mental health, substance use disorder, and crisis response services. Increased funding is aimed specifically at children, maternal, and veteran mental health and at improving access to mental health care through mobile crisis units.

In addition, under the new law, Medicare will now cover services provided by marriage and family therapists and counselors, and Medicaid will now be required to provide searchable directories of mental health providers. The law also creates new requirements that patient perspectives on their mental health care be incorporated into quality measurement.

The new spending bill signed by President Biden represents a major step forward for the healthcare industry. Increased funding for drug discovery will lead to quicker innovations in the Alzheimer’s Disease and Diabetes spaces, while telehealth will continue to be a critical component to ensure access to care. The bill also reflects an increased emphasis on mental health, providing much needed support and resources to those in need. These concerted efforts signify a dedication to creating a healthier and more equitable future.

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