The Obama administration is trying to defend the health improvement funding authorized by the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act of 2010 (PPACA).
PPACA allocated $15 billion in funding for a Prevention and Public Health Fund. The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) was supposed to use the money over 10 years to prevent chronic disease, detect it early and manage conditions before they become severe.
President Obama has given the Joint Select Committee on Deficit Reduction – the 12-member “Super Committee” that is racing to come up with $1.2 trillion in deficit reduction proposals by Thanksgiving – a proposal that would cut program funding to about $14 billion over 10 years.
The Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions (HELP) Committee held a hearing Wednesday on how the government should manage chronic disease prevention efforts.
Sen. Tom Harkin, D-Iowa, the chairman of the committee spoke with pride about his role in getting the prevention fund provision into PPACA.
“This fund is only a small down payment compared with the size of the problem,” Harkin said.
An Obama administration witness, Howard Koh, an assistant secretary for health at HHS, noted that chronic disease accounts for about 75% of the $2.5 trillion that the United States each year on health care.
The country also spends hundreds of billions of dollars on support programs aimed at people who are unable to work or unable to perform the normal activities of daily living because of the effects of preventable chronic conditions.
But some Republican critics have suggested that HHS might be using the prevention fund as a “slush fund.”
Sen. Pat Roberts, R-Kan., said in his opening remarks that any prevention funding available must be carefully distributed, that priorities must be set with great thought, and that oversight over any prevention spending must be vigorous.
Koh testified at the hearing that the prevention fund has provided $750 million for fiscal year 2011, and that HHS has used the fund to pay for initiatives such as $222 million community and state prevention grant program that supports efforts to reduce tobacco use, prevent obesity and reduce health disparities. The fund also has provided $60 million for anti-tobacco-use campaigns and $16 million for obesity prevention and fitness campaigns.