Pediatricians hit Bush on kids' health spending

The administration says advances in children's health have occurred on the president's watch.

By Joel B. Finkelstein — Posted Oct. 18, 2004

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Washington -- A group of 36 prominent pediatricians has launched a newspaper ad campaign in battleground states attacking President Bush for budget cuts to public health insurance programs for children.

"The administration needs to be accountable for the impact of their policies at the state level, as well as at the federal level," said Steven Berman, MD, a Denver pediatrician and past president of the American Academy of Pediatrics.

Many states have faced budget shortfalls in recent years, hurting the ability to fund their portion of federal-state programs such as Medicaid and the State Children's Health Insurance Program. Some $1.1 billion in SCHIP funds recently expired, returning to the U.S. Treasury. The administration has promised to redistribute more than $660 million in remaining funds to states projected to run through their allotments before year's end.

That temporary measure falls short of legislation that would provide adequate SCHIP funding through 2007, said Joel Alpert, MD, a Boston pediatrician and another past president of the AAP. Although lawmakers have failed to act on the bill, its passage is possible if Congress and the Bush administration can iron out differences over how that money should be spent, experts said.

The pediatricians also lauded presidential candidate Sen. John Kerry's (D, Mass.), proposed goal to expand public programs to cover all children.

Administration officials accused the pediatricians of "playing politics with children's lives."

"Under President Bush's leadership, childhood vaccination rates are at an all-time high, more children than ever have health insurance through SCHIP, and we have moved aggressively to expand prenatal care for poor women," said Health and Human Services Secretary Tommy Thompson.

The pediatricians' ad campaign criticizes Bush's proposed 2005 budget as underfunding healthy start programs, pediatric health professionals' training and pediatric medical research. The administration has consistently proposed cuts for medical training grants, but Congress usually adds that money back to the budget. Pediatric research funding at the National Institutes of Health has actually grown by more than 12% during Bush's tenure, but has shrunk as a proportion of total NIH spending.

Experts at a recent congressional briefing sponsored by the nonpartisan Alliance for Health Reform also voiced concern about coverage gaps.

"Many children have health care needs that are not being met by our current public policy," said Lisa Simpson, MPH, director of health policy for the National Initiative for Children's Healthcare Quality.

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External links

Pediatricians' advertisement, in pdf (link)

Bush administration response to pediatricians' ad (link)

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