Political Diagnosis, Part I: Budget Blueprint for Health Care; Reform Without a Czar; Foodies Rejoice! …

By Christine |

A weekly look at what’s happening in Washington and in the new Obama administration related to women’s health and well-being …

A New Budget, New Priorities: On Thursday, President Obama sent Congress a $3.6 trillion spending plan that includes funding for “vast new investments in health care, energy independence and education by raising taxes on the oil and gas industry, hedge fund managers, multinational corporations and nearly 3 million of the nation’s top earners,” as summarized by the Washington Post.

Read the section (pdf) specific to health initiatives under HHS. Got more time? Flip through the entire document.

A senior administration official told NPR Obama’s budget blueprint “is meant to start a dialogue with Congress over how to provide coverage for an estimated 48 million uninsured while also slowing health care costs, which amount to $2.4 trillion a year and keep rising even as the economy is shrinking.”

The New York Times has more on what the proposal includes:

Mr. Obama requested more than $6 billion for cancer research at the National Institutes of Health, up from $5.6 billion last year, and he announced a “multiyear plan to double cancer research.”

In addition, Mr. Obama said he would speed the approval of low-cost generic versions of expensive biotechnology drugs by establishing “a new regulatory pathway” at the Food and Drug Administration.

And he said he would increase access to family planning services for low-income women by expanding eligibility under Medicaid. A similar proposal was dropped from the recent economic stimulus bill after it provoked an outcry from Republicans.

Mr. Obama asked Congress to set aside $634 billion in a “reserve fund for health care reform.”

He provided no new information about how to cover the uninsured, saying he would work out the details with Congress later this year. But he did propose specific changes to save money, and many of his ideas face opposition from Washington lobbyists and the interests they represent.

Mr. Obama would, for example, require drug companies to give bigger discounts, or rebates, to Medicaid, the health program for low-income people.

Reaction from women’s health advocates was positive.

“We are thrilled that the President articulated a commitment to fix our broken health care system while ensuring access to family planning services in his budget outline,” Mary Jane Gallagher, president of the National Family Planning & Reproductive Health Association, said in a statement. “The inclusion of a provision to expand eligibility for Medicaid funded family planning services is a tremendous step forward in meeting the need for access to family planning services.”

The New York Times also reports today that liberal organizations have been empowered to re-join the lobbying fray, especially around making health care more accessible and affordable.

Czar 44, Where Are You?: Lindsay Beyerstein reports that Obama administration “may be about to pull the plug on the health czar.” That was the title former Sen. Tom Daschle was expected to assume in addition to secretary of Health & Human Services before he withdrew his name from consideration for that post.

While there are serious contenders for the HHS post, it appears the the czar position won’t be reassigned — but that’s not necessarily a bad thing. Beyerstein includes a good summary of other writers on this topic.

Health Care Payouts: The $787 billion economic stimulus package included subsidies for people who have recently been laid off that would enable them to keep their health care coverage through COBRA. That funding kicked in this week, reports the Boston Gobe.

Government Health Care Spending: “In 2018, healthcare spending will make up more than one-fifth of the American economy and the government will pay more than 50 percent of those costs, according to projections issued at midnight Tuesday by the Office of the Actuary at the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS),” reports The Hill.

Foodies Rejoice!: Andrew Leonard at Salon describes reaction among healthy food activists to the decision to appoint Tufts professor Kathleen Merrigan to the No. 2 post at USDA as “tasty-good as a freshly picked organic peach or heirloom tomato. Containing absolutely no high fructose corn syrup and fully compostable!”

There’s good reason to celebrate:

Merrigan wrote the Organic Food Production Act — the law of the land for the organic sector — as a staffer for Vermont Sen. Leahy all the way back in the 1980s, served as head of the USDA’s Agricultural Marketing Service — which oversees federal organic policy — under Clinton, and, writes [Samuel] Fromartz, “even before then, she was involved in sustainable agriculture policy and has been ever since — in organics, conservation, food access, and small farm issues. While [Michael] Pollan helped put these issues onto the national agenda, people like Merrigan have long been doing the wonky policy work.

Plus: Healthy Schools Campaign points to an interview with Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack, who discusses his future plans for USDA and criticisms that he is too closely tied to ethanol and agribusiness.

 

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