By Nadja Popovich
Science and health departments must be breathing a collective sigh of relief after President Obama's unveiling of the proposed 2011 budget yesterday, at least for now.
Despite recent tough rhetoric on deficit reduction and the planned spending freeze on non-defense programs, the budget proposes a boost in spending on health and scientific research.
President Obama laid out a plan that included more discretionary spending for Health and Human Services -- $81.9 billion, up from $79.6 billion in 2010. A bit over a third of this money --$32 billion -- is designated for the National Institutes of Health, a $1 billion budget increase over last year. The Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality may also benefit. Under the proposal, it's budget would grow from roughly $400 million last year to $611 million in this year's budget.
Medicare and Medicaid still make up the bulk of the healthcare budget proposal -- $818 billion of the government's total proposed $911 billion health budget. But neither of those programs were slated to be a part of the spending freeze in the first place.
This budget may be a sign that, despite the uncertain future of healthcare overhaul in Congress, the Obama administration hasn't given up on the bill.
According to NPR's Julie Rovner, Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius said that some of the proposed budgetary increases are aimed at "laying the groundwork" for healthcare overhaul -- assuming it will eventually pass. But increases in health spending can't fill in for a more substantial overhaul of the system, which would include extended coverage to an estimated 30 million Americans and take steps to reign in costs in the future. "[The budget proposal] doesn't change dramatically the cost trajectory or... fill the coverage gap," said Sebelius. Others, including the Wall Street Journal, however, suggest the healthcare budget proposal might be a back-up plan if overhaul fails.
Global health programs would also get a 9 percent increase in funding over last year under the budget proposal, including the expansion of support for both PEPFAR and the President's Malaria Initiative, among other considerations.
Of course, none of these grand numbers being proposed are a guarantee of anything -- Congress has the real power of the purse. And they're already taking the administration's budget to task at multiple hearings today as top U.S. officials defended the proposal.