Cross-posted from the Huffington Post.
This week, extremists in the House of Representatives seem to be firmly in charge as their fiscal year 2016 Labor, Health and Human Services, Education and Related Agencies (Labor-HHS) funding bill advances quickly.This legislation is shocking for the many ways it would take our country backward. It ignores the public’s priorities, misdirects precious resources, and demonstrates contempt for programs that show promise or have track records of success. It prioritizes ideology over good governance, at the expense of the public good.
The House leadership proposal would end — not cut, but end — the federal family planning program, which for decades has been providing contraception, cancer screenings and other preventive health services to low-income women who would otherwise go without reproductive and other health care. This program helps millions of women avoid unintended pregnancy and maintain good health. If it were to end, nearly 4.6 million people would lose health care, and rural and low-income women would suffer the most.
House leaders also propose to slash funds for comprehensive, medically accurate sexuality education programs that have been proven to work. At the same time, they would increase funds for programs that promote abstinence-only-until-marriage, even though research has shown, time and again, that they don’t.
The House leadership bill would undermine the coverage for preventive care that tens of millions of Americans have gained through the Affordable Care Act by enacting a sweeping exemption that lets any individual, employer or health plan refuse to purchase or provide insurance coverage for any item or service to which they object on moral or religious grounds.
The bill would also continue the discriminatory Hyde Amendment, which withholds abortion coverage from women enrolled in Medicaid.
It’s not just women’s health that House leaders would put on the chopping block. Their bill would jeopardize work the administration is doing to improve our health care system, so that we can all one day access higher quality, better coordinated care at lower cost. For example, they would cut $6.2 billion from the appropriation to the Center for Medicare and Medicaid Innovation (CMMI), which is at the forefront of developing and testing new models of health care payment and delivery. They would end funding for the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality (AHRQ), which is conducting essential research on how to measure quality in health care and drive quality improvement. It may sound like alphabet soup, but CMMI and AHRQ are vitally important agencies that have been essential to recent advances in accountability for the quality of care patients receive, how providers use health information technology, and how to reduce health disparities and improve maternity care, patient safety, disease prevention, care management and more.
If we want to deliver high-value, quality care to patients and families, we need to invest in better ways to deliver care — not undermine the agencies that are making real the improvements our health care system needs.
House leaders also propose to freeze funding for the Office of the National Coordinator (ONC) for Health Information Technology, rejecting for the second year in a row the increase this agency needs to make new health technologies interoperable — so they can connect with each other effectively — and prevent blocking of the health information patients and health care providers need. The country has invested billions of dollars in health information technology and it would be absurd not to finish the job so these technologies will function efficiently and achieve their promise to support higher quality, better coordinated care nationwide.
These are the wrong priorities and this is the wrong budget and the wrong way forward for the country. The fact that this proposal is racing through the House puts to rest any notion that House leaders have their proverbial fingers on the pulse of the country — or care about the health, well-being or economic security of women and families. And that, like the budget they are pushing, is bad for the country.