Engages With Secretary Sebelius on a Variety of Issues
WASHINGTON, DC—Congresswoman Rosa DeLauro (D-CT) examined the Department of Health and Human Services’ (HHS) proposed 2014 budget with Secretary Kathleen Sebelius today. Secretary Sebelius testified before the subcommittee responsible for funding HHS today, on which DeLauro is the Senior Democrat.
DeLauro questioned the Secretary on the need for additional firearms research, mental health access and investment in early childhood development, all of which have been woefully underfunded to date. She also stressed the impact of the across the board cuts known as sequestration on programs that support poor families and the middle class and the need to robustly implement the Affordable Care Act.
The following remarks are as prepared for delivery:
“Thank you, Mister Chairman. And welcome, Madam Secretary, to what I hope will be an interesting discussion of some very important budget proposals.
“In considering the President’s budget, I believe it is vitally important that we keep in mind a key point: This budget assumes that the sequestration now scheduled for 2014 is replaced with a more sensible and balanced deficit reduction package, such as the one being proposed by the President.
“I very much hope we will succeed in doing that, but I have my doubts. If we are not successful, the budget for HHS will look very different. Sequestration will reduce the 2014 cap on non-defense discretionary appropriations by an estimated $37 billion, and the Labor-HHS bill accounts for almost a third of the non-defense discretionary total.
“That means few, if any, of the proposed increases will be possible, and instead, we will be looking at another round of harmful cuts that will be felt by our constituents in communities across the country. I would like to hear, Madam Secretary, what the impact of this will be.
“Moving to the budget before us, one proposed increase that I am particularly pleased to see is the focus on investment in early childhood. It is high time that we join the many other nations in this investment.
“Ben Bernanke said last July that a significant investment in early childhood would deliver gains to the entire US economy. I quote: ‘Notably, a portion of these economic returns accrues to the children themselves and their families,’ he said, ‘but studies show that the rest of society enjoys the majority of the benefits.’
“There is a tremendous need in America for further investment in high quality and readily accessible child care and learning opportunities for infants and toddlers.
“Despite the vast research demonstrating the positive outcomes that stem from universal access to early learning, far too many children in working families are not able to benefit from this early foundation to a successful life. While I have some questions about the Administration’s proposal, I am glad to see this budget moves us in the right direction.
“The President’s budget also requests appropriations to continue implementation of the health insurance marketplaces under the Affordable Care Act. That is exactly the right thing to do. The ACA is the law of the land, and our constituents deserve to access quality insurance options on its exchanges – so we need to allow the resources needed to properly implement these marketplaces and enroll patients.
“It is unconscionable that Congress failed to provide anywhere near the appropriations needed for this year, and as a result HHS has been forced to take actions that divert resources away from other critical public health priorities – like the Prevention and Public Health Fund – while still falling well short of the need.
“The ACA has the potential to transform health care in this country and ensure that our constituents have access to quality, affordable health care services. Let’s look at what it has already done:
• Stopped insurers from denying insurance to the more than 15 million children with pre-existing conditions
• Helped more than 6 million young adults gain insurance by staying on their parents’ plan
• Stopped companies from discriminating against women strictly because of their gender
• Started to close the donut hole, saving seniors across the country billions of dollars
• Empowered more than 100 million Americans to access recommended preventive health services with no out of pocket costs
• Reinforced our longstanding, bipartisan support of community health centers, which will provide health care to 23 million Americans in fiscal year 2014
• And the list goes on!
“Starting next year, major new benefits will take effect. The law will end discrimination against adults with pre-existing conditions (as has already been done for children), ensuring that people do not lose access to health insurance when they need it most. Individuals and small businesses will be able to shop for insurance coverage in competitive and transparent marketplaces, gaining some of the advantages already enjoyed by large corporations. Financial assistance with premiums and cost sharing will be provided to people with low and moderate incomes, so they can afford to be insured. According to CBO, as a result of these and other changes 14 million more Americans will gain healthcare coverage next year, with that figure rising to 27 million a few years later.
“I am encouraged that the Administration requests additional funding for the National Institutes of Health, though that is not enough to undo the harm of sequestration.
“Patients across the country rely on research supported by the NIH and other health agencies like AHRQ and CMS to find out how we can prevent, diagnose earlier, and better treat diseases like cancer. And our investments in health care workforce help ensure that with or without insurance, our constituents have access to the care they need.
“We also rely on our public health agencies like the CDC to protect us from new diseases – like the avian flu virus that has affected more than 100 individuals in China – and to detect and control diseases here at home. Even before sequestration, appropriations for the CDC had been reduced by more than $725 million since 2010. When you add sequestration on top of that, the numbers are even worse.
“I am pleased that the Administration has requested funding to restore cuts made to the Title X family planning program in recent years. As you know, Title X providers are often the only source of preventive and primary care for the low-income women and men that rely on them for care.
“Unfortunately, there are also a few things in this budget that I cannot support.
“One is the proposed $445 million reduction in the Low-Income Home Energy Assistance Program. LIHEAP has already been cut by almost one third since 2010, while the price of heating oil has risen by 38 percent. Over 90 percent of LIHEAP households include a loved one who is elderly, disabled, or under five. These struggling families should not have to choose between buying groceries and keeping their homes warm.
“I also firmly oppose the proposed halving of the Community Services Block Grant here, which is such a valuable resource for the local organizations providing vital services in our communities.
“In addition, I was disappointed to see that the Administration has apparently given up on seeking the additional appropriations allowed by the Budget Control Act to combat health care fraud and abuse. After requesting that funding for three years in a row but getting no increase whatsoever from the majority side of our committee, it looks like the President has instead decided to request that the increase be provided in authorizing law. I hope he is successful in that request, since the health care fraud and abuse control program returns more than 7 dollars to the Treasury and the Medicare trust funds for every dollar spent.
“There are a number of other important issues I hope we can discuss today, including the Administration’s proposal to strengthen access to mental health services, especially in the wake of the tragedy at Sandy Hook Elementary in Newtown. As a member of the Connecticut delegation, I can tell you: Our kids need access to quality services after traumatic events like Newtown, and we must do a better job ensuring that everyone has access to mental health care.
“I look forward to this discussion, and to your testimony. Madam Secretary, thank you for joining us today.