Blair Horner: President Obama's Budget

Apr 15, 2013

Last week, President Obama offered his plan for the federal budget.  According to the President, his proposed $3.7 trillion budget for 2014 would cut deficits by $1.8 trillion over the next decade.  The President’s plan includes a number of proposals, most notably: ending the “sequester” (that’s the current law that has automatically cut federal spending), reducing spending in the Medicare and Social Security programs, as well as tax increases that would primarily hit high-income households and corporations.

President Obama’s budget would reduce the growth of federal health spending by $401 billion over 10 years.  The savings include $57 billion of increased payments by higher-income Medicare beneficiaries; cuts of $306 billion in projected Medicare payments to health care providers; and $19 billion cut out of Medicaid, the program for low-income people.

The Obama plan would require drug manufacturers to provide additional discounts, or rebates, to Medicare for prescription drugs bought by low-income beneficiaries.  Medicare would thus get discounts similar to those that drug makers now provide to Medicaid.

In terms of health care delivery, the President’s plan offered good news and bad news.

In terms of good news, the President proposed a 94-cent increase in the federal tax on cigarettes and significant increases on other tobacco products.  The President proposed earmarking the tax to pay for his early childhood education initiative (universal pre-K).

Hiking the prices of tobacco products would reduce health care costs associated with tobacco use and preventing premature deaths.  Raising the price of tobacco products is one of the most effective approaches to encouraging people to quit and preventing kids from picking up the deadly addiction in the first place.  Research has consistently shown that every 10 percent increase in the price of cigarettes reduces youth smoking by 6.5 percent and overall cigarette consumption by about 4 percent.

Discouraging tobacco use through increased prices will reduce the $96 billion in annual health care costs associated with using these deadly products.

The President's proposal also restores sequester cuts to important health programs; including a 1.5% spending increase for the National Institutes of Health and a 1.2% increase for the National Cancer Institute.

But then came the bad news.  The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s cancer screening programs took big hits. 

Specifically, the President has proposed a $28 million cut to the national breast and cervical cancer screening program and a $4 million cut to the nation’s colon cancer screening program.  Both of these programs offer free cancer screenings for those without health insurance.  The budget proposal also calls for diverting a good chunk of the public health prevention fund to cover the CDC’s cancer program budget.

As a result, the President’s plan limits the nation’s ability to apply proven prevention strategies in the fight to eliminate death and suffering from cancer.  Many uninsured women who currently receive recommended screening tests through the breast and cervical cancer screening program, for example, will have no alternative option for affordable, lifesaving screenings.  Affordable colon cancer screenings for both men and women without health insurance are also in jeopardy.

Of course, the President’s plan is just a proposal; both the House and Senate have their own spending plans.  These plans will have to be drafted into legislative form by July.  As a result, over the next few weeks the House and Senate will make their decisions on how to respond to the President’s proposal.

One thing’s for sure though, whatever happens in the final budget, Americans without adequate health insurance need access to free cancer screening programs.  If those programs are cut, lives will be lost.

Blair Horner is the Vice President for Advocacy for the American Cancer Society, Eastern Division.  His commentary does not necessarily reflect the views of the American Cancer Society.

The views expressed by commentators are solely those of the authors. They do not necessarily reflect the views of this station or its management.