Budget ‘sequestration’ will hurt vital health care functions

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The U.S. health sector and the health of Americans will suffer numerous adverse effects from budget “sequestration,” writes Harvard School of Public Health (HSPH) health care policy expert John McDonough in a March 20, 2013 article in the New England Journal of Medicine. Under this “sequestration”—the result of the inability of Congress and President Barack Obama to agree by March 1, 2013 on a plan to reduce the national budget deficit—the budget must be trimmed across-the-board in most federal agencies by $85 billion for the final seven months of fiscal year 2013.

McDonough heads the Center for Public Health Leadership at HSPH and is professor of the practice of public health.

Programs to be cut include Medicare funding, which will be trimmed by nearly $12 million through reductions in payments to hospitals, physicians, other health care providers, and some insurers; the National Institutes of Health, facing $1.6 billion in cuts that will delay or halt vital scientific projects; and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, which predicts having to significantly cut back HIV tests, immunizations, tuberculosis programs, and other programs that track infections and foodborne disease outbreaks. Other agencies affected include the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, which will cut mental health services for adults and children offered through its Mental Health Block Grant program; and the Indian Health Service, which will serve thousands fewer in both inpatient admissions and outpatient visits.