Chairman Yarmuth’s Opening Statement at Hearing with Secretary Becerra on HHS FY23 Budget

Apr 6, 2022

WASHINGTON, D.C.Today, Kentucky Congressman John Yarmuth, Chair of the House Budget Committee, gave the following opening statement at today’s hearing with Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) Secretary Xavier Becerra on the HHS Fiscal Year 2023 Budget. The House Budget Majority Staff issued a report in advance of the hearing. Remarks as prepared and video are below:

Secretary Becerra – I’m not sure if it still feels strange to be on that side of the dais, but it’s always great to welcome a friend to our Committee. Thank you again for testifying today on the President’s proposed 2023 budget for the Department of Health and Human Services. I also want to commend your leadership during what has been an incredibly difficult time for our nation as we continue to battle the COVID pandemic and its impact on American families.

When considering this budget proposal, it is important to look back to the beginning of this crisis. To put it bluntly, our public health system was woefully unprepared for COVID-19. Years of irresponsible austerity under the budget caps took a toll on our public health infrastructure and readiness. Former President Trump had gutted key public health agencies and, in an astonishingly shortsighted move, disbanded a White House Council charged with pandemic preparedness. Vaccine development was underway, but there was no distribution plan in place.

Fast-forward one year. The American Rescue Plan has now helped us make considerable headway in the fight against COVID-19. It put in place a massive vaccination campaign, invested in state and local public health systems, and lowered health care costs for millions of Americans. Thanks to the American Rescue Plan, more than 216 million Americans have now been fully vaccinated against COVID-19, and American families saved an average of $2,400 on their annual health insurance premiums this past year.

But we can’t wait for the next pandemic, or rely on emergency action, to ensure our public health systems are up to the task. That is why the Biden Budget request for HHS meets the needs of today, while strengthening our public health system for decades to come.

This starts with an overall discretionary funding level of $127 billion for HHS — more than $13 billion over 2022 funding levels — along with major investments in our public health systems and surge capacity so we are prepared for future pandemics and biological threats. The Biden Budget increases discretionary CDC funding by 28 percent and expands no-cost access to vaccines, including a new program to provide all recommended vaccines to uninsured adults for free.

This budget proposes the smart, forward-looking investments we need. It invests heavily in research and development, including $5 billion for the newly established ARPA-H initiative to accelerate development of treatments and cures for devastating diseases including cancer, diabetes, and Alzheimer’s. The budget puts us on track to meet President Biden’s goal of cutting cancer death rates by 50 percent over the next 25 years – which would save 300,000 lives and hundreds of billions of dollars annually — and lays out a strategy to reduce HIV infection by 75 percent over next three years.

Two years of this pandemic have had far-reaching consequences for our society. This budget recognizes that. And it puts forth real resources to address challenges that COVID exposed and exacerbated.

It dramatically expands mental health benefits and coverage. It lowers costs for mental health services by requiring private plans to cover mental health benefits and takes steps to address the persistent shortage of behavioral health providers. And it makes historic investments in youth mental health services and suicide prevention.

This budget targets systemic health disparities and invests in vulnerable communities that have historically been left behind or ignored. This includes investments to lower America’s unacceptably high maternal mortality rate — especially among Black and Native women — and substantial increases in funding for low-income women’s health care through the Title X Family Planning Program. And, recognizing our obligations to Tribal communities, this budget provides $142 billion for Indian Health Services over the next decade, guaranteeing a stable funding source for IHS going forward.

Finally, the Biden budget invests in our nation’s children, with sizable increases for the Child Care and Development Block Grant program and Head Start.

We have learned a lot from this devastating pandemic, and chief among those lessons is that our public health systems must be adequately funded and fully equipped to combat public health threats before they emerge. We cannot afford the human and economic costs of being unprepared again. This budget ensures that the next time we are hit with a health threat — and we will be — our public health infrastructure is ready to respond.

It’s also about making major discoveries – which will change the outlook for millions of Americans facing debilitating and life-threatening illnesses. The budget’s massive investments in research and development will undoubtedly lead to new treatments and cures. It will save lives. 

Secretary Becerra, your department has put forth a responsible, compassionate, and forward-looking budget. Thank you again for your leadership and for appearing before our Committee today. I look forward to your testimony.

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