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MichUHCAN Newsletter April, 2001
The Bush Budget and Health Care: Two Steps Back, None Forward
Tax cuts are the most widely discussed aspect of President Bush's proposed budget, but health care would also be greatly affected by his plan-and not positively.
The Bush proposal would cut by about 86% the funding for federal programs that provide health care access to the uninsured, down from $140 million to $20 million. The only increase proposed for the Department of Health and Human Services, about $2.6 billion, would go to biomedical research, not expanding access to care.
Also cut would be federal money for training doctors, nurses, and other health care professionals. The proposed cut-back would come in the midst of a major shortage of nurses. For instance in California, hospitals reported an average 20% vacancy rate in nursing positions in December.
Meanwhile, Bush maintains his support for Medicare vouchers, forcing seniors to individually shop for deals in the topsy-turvy, sometimes cutthroat, private insurance market.
The plusses for health care in the administration's plans are small to nonexistent.
Bush proposes the same funding as last year ($1.8 billion) for care of people with AIDS. This covers no inflation in costs, even though drug prices are rising and people with AIDS are living longer, thus requiring more care.
A positive move is a proposed expansion of funding for community health centers. Bush says he wants to double the number of people served by such clinics. To do that, his proposal increases funding by 11%.
Bush's "Immediate Helping Hand" proposal for a Medicare prescription drug program has been called neither immediate nor much of a help. The plan, for block grants to set up state prescription programs for low-income seniors, was introduced in February. Benefits would vary state by state; the program is only planned to last for four years.
But right now only about half the states have a prescription drug assistance program in place. For the rest, it will take many months to get a program up and running. And existing state drug programs have a bad track record in reaching poor seniors: they help fewer than one-fourth of those eligible.
Tax cuts are always bound to be popular, but these are coming at a very high price, including the viability of the Medicare system. As Bob Kuttner of the Boston Globe observed, the cost of restoring Medicare to solvency and adding a prescription drug program would be about $50 billion a year. That's less than one-third of the amount that Bush proposes to give back in taxes.
[Sources: Boston Globe, ASAP!Update (Families USA), New York Times.]
U2K Still Growing
The new session of the Michigan legislature includes many new faces, and some of our endorsers of universal health care (U2K) are gone. But that hasn't discouraged MichUHCAN activists.
After a few months of contacting legislators this year, our current number of state representatives endorsing U2K has surpassed what we had before November's election. There are 42 official endorsements from the state house, with several more expected to be received soon.
Congratulations to all those who have gone to Lansing, or phoned or written your rep!
Detroit Chapter Mtg: