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Health Budget: More for Bioterror Research

Monday, 04 February 2002 12:00 AM

HHS Secretary Tommy Thompson on Monday said President Bush's budget for HHS during fiscal 2003 totals $489 billion, nearly a quarter of all federal spending and a 6.3 percent increase over 2002.

Last fall's anthrax outbreak made bioterrorism a priority for the federal government. One of the biggest components of the budget, $4.3 billion and a 45 percent increase from fiscal 2002, would go toward preparing the country at the national, state and local levels for another bioterrorism attack.

The National Institutes of Health will receive $1.7 billion alone for research into new vaccines and diagnostic tools and protecting its own facilities.

Funding increases are also allocated to the Food and Drug Administration, including $98 million to oversee the safety of the nation's food supply, and to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta so it can upgrade laboratory facilities and boost its own security.

"The president is committed to making sure we're prepared to handle it [a bioterrorist attack] successfully," Thompson said.

The agency receiving one of the biggest slices of the fiscal pie is the NIH, the nation's most prestigious medical research agency that serves as an umbrella for numerous other research branches. The Bush administration is proposing a budget request of $27.3 billion, an increase of $3.7 billion, or just under 16 percent from 2002, double the amount of 1998.

Though a good chunk would go toward bioterrorism research, Thompson said money is also being reserved to study medical advances in cancer, HIV/AIDS and other chronic, life-threatening diseases. When asked what portion of the proposed budget could go toward stem-cell research, Thompson replied, "Stem cell research is going to have a healthy increase ... the exact dollars, I don't know." Those figures, Thompson said, will be determined by NIH.

Stem cell research has been a prickly issue for this administration. Scientists have argued that stem cells, which are immature cells, have the capacity to become treatments for a host of debilitating diseases, such as those mentioned in the budget.

"You have to come home with a very optimistic point of view that the government is behind scientists," Dr. W. Dalton Dietrich, scientific director of the Miami Project to Cure Paralysis and an advocate of stem cell research, told United Press International. "That the government wants scientists in the United States to be able to compete with scientists in the world and to make these important discoveries in health."

Bush is also calling for $89 billion to assist the uninsured. Given the economic recession, with people losing their jobs and their health care coverage, Thompson called the proposal a necessity.

Bush wants to encourage increased health insurance coverage in the private sector, so the administration is proposing refundable tax credits for low-income people not covered under an employee health plan or enrolled in public programs that offer health care.

Ron Pollack, executive director of a group calling itself Families USA, countered, in a prepared statement, such tax credits are "far too small to make health coverage affordable for low-income workers."

Other groups were also not praising the proposed budget. Planned Parenthood Federation of America was disappointed with a $33 million increase in expanding abstinence-only sex education, a 100 percent increase from the previous year.

"Abstinence-only so-called education has not been shown to be effective," claimed Gloria Feldt, president of the Planned Parenthood Federation of America.

Adolescents taught in abstinence-only programs, she said, could be vulnerable to unintended pregnancies and to contracting sexual transmitted diseases.

Cuts are proposed for international "family planning" groups. "Women in the United States and around the world will suffer the consequences of the Bush budget," Feldt complained.

The budget includes $12.9 billion to fight HIV and AIDS, an increase of $906 million, or 8 percent. It allocates a $200 million contribution by the United States to Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria. So far, $100 million was pledged for fiscal 2001 and $200 million for fiscal 2002. Thompson said the U.S. commitment included $100 million from HHS and $100 million from the U.S. Agency for International Development.

The big increase in AIDS funding did not appease leftist AIDS groups. David Bryden, spokesman for Global AIDS Alliance, griped that American taxpayers should spend "billions" on AIDS.

Copyright 2002 by United Press International.

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HHS Secretary Tommy Thompson on Monday said President Bush's budget for HHS during fiscal 2003 totals $489 billion, nearly a quarter of all federal spending and a 6.3 percent increase over 2002. Last fall's anthrax outbreak made bioterrorism a priority for the federal...
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Monday, 04 February 2002 12:00 AM
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