From: Reuters
Published February 4, 2008 05:33 PM

Bush budget seen as disastrous for health care

By Maggie Fox, Health and Science Editor

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Health experts denounced President George W. Bush's 2009 federal budget request on Monday, calling it a disaster for the health of Americans and saying they would look to Congress to change it.

Bush's $3.1 trillion spending plan proposes a 7 percent cut in funds for the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention as well as less money for Medicare and Medicaid -- the joint federal-state health insurance programs for the poor and elderly.

The budget for the fiscal year starting October 1, 2009 would reduce spending on Medicare by $12.8 billion and lower federal funds for Medicaid by $18.2 billion over five years.

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The National Institutes of Health and the Food and Drug Administration would receive more funds, but critics said the increases were too small to counteract rising costs.

"We are deeply troubled that funding for heart and stroke research at the National Institutes of Health is below medical research inflation for the sixth year in a row," said Dr. Daniel Jones, president of the American Heart Association.

"At a time when healthcare costs are skyrocketing, we should be investing more to keep Americans healthy instead of cutting funds for disease prevention," added Jeff Levi, executive director of the nonprofit Trust for America's Health.

Groups representing for-profit interests also complained.

"Today's budget blueprint would have a disastrous impact on the health care that millions of patients and families depend on," said Rich Umbdenstock, president and CEO of the American Hospital Association.

"At a time when physicians are in short supply, this budget calls for cuts to teaching hospitals that prepare tomorrow's physicians. At a time when our economy is faltering, this budget cuts hospitals serving some of America's poorest patients," he said in a statement.

'UNREASONABLE AND UNREALISTIC'

"Unfortunately, we believe that from the standpoint of protecting the care needs of our oldest, most vulnerable nursing home residents, this budget is the most unreasonable and unrealistic of President Bush's entire tenure in the White House," said Bruce Yarwood, president and CEO of the American Health Care Association.

Massachusetts Democratic Sen. Edward Kennedy suggested Congress would do what it did last year, and simply give many agencies more funds than Bush has asked for.

Kennedy said the budget under-funded the NIH, which pays for medical and scientific research. "As a result, more than four in five new grant proposals judged meritorious by peer review will go unfunded," he said.

"The budget fails to protect America's families from pandemics and terrorist attacks, by cutting key programs that invest in America's hospitals."

He labeled a proposed increase of $2.4 billion for the FDA -- some of it for food safety -- as "budgetary smoke and mirrors," even though it is a 5.7 percent increase over the current year's spending allocation.

"The president's proposal to increase FDA food-related spending by $32 million does little more than cover the cost of inflation and falls short of what is ultimately needed to make certain FDA has the tools it needs to get the job done," said Grocery Manufacturers Association president and CEO Cal Dooley,

"However, we are confident that Congress will provide the necessary resources to rebuild FDA's scientific capacity."

(Editing by Julie Steenhuysen)

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