The 107th Congress, by general agreement, was not a major contributor to medical and health policy. However, legislation it failed to pass serves as a prologue to some of the issues the new 108th Congress will consider during the next 2 years, said Susan Erickson, acting director of the National Cancer Institute's (NCI's) Office of Policy Analysis and Response. "We will probably continue to see these themes, no matter what specific pieces of legislation come back," she said at a meeting of the National Cancer Advisory Board.
When the last Congress adjourned in late November 2002, it had failed to pass 11 of the 13 Fiscal Year 2003 appropriation bills, including the one for the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS). That meant that all HHS components, including the NCI, remained in operation under a continuing resolution that kept their budgets at the level of FY 2002, which ended last September 30. The new Congress immediately extended the continuing resolution, and the House and Senate resumed work to enact the remaining FY 2003 appropriations bills.
In the last Congress, the Senate reported an HHS budget bill that included $4.642 billion for the NCI, an increase of 12% over its FY 2002 appropriation. That sum is unlikely to change in this session. The House, however, failed to agree on a budget for the department. When it does, a House-Senate conference committee will have to work out differences between the two bills before either body votes on a final HHS budget.
When the 107th Congress ended, all unenacted bills introduced by members of the House and Senate died with it, and they must be reintroduced before they can be considered again. Major pieces of health legislation that failed to win passage included Medicare coverage for chemotherapy drugs and their administration, Medicare coverage for oral cancer drugs, a Medicare prescription drug benefit, 8 measures relating to clinical trials access, 10 in the area of patient privacy and discrimination, and 6 that would increase access to medical care. However, given the faltering economy, increasing budget deficit, demands for tax cuts, and the threat of war with Iraq, it remains uncertain how willing Congress will be to increase funds for health programs.