White House budget makes HIT a priority

By Diana Manos
09:56 AM

The White House has released President Barack Obama's expanded fiscal year 2010 budget, with a continued commitment to advancing healthcare IT as a way to cut healthcare costs and save lives.

Obama's $3.4 trillion federal budget, expanded in detail from the outline he presented to Congress 10 weeks ago, includes $879 billion for the Department of Health and Human Services, an estimated $63 billion increase over fiscal year 2009.

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The Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality (AHRQ) is expected to receive $372,053,000 to conduct research on comparative effectiveness, prevention and care management, value research, health information technology and patient safety. In addition, the AHRQ will use the funding to support research it conducts with other agencies.

The president's budget for AHRQ will be in addition to the $1.1 billion allotted for comparative effectiveness research under the stimulus package.

Obama's plan calls for $635 billion over 10 years as a "downpayment" toward health reform. In a press conference Thursday afternoon, Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius called it "a smart investment."

"No one should underestimate President Obama's commitment to getting healthcare reform this year," she said.

"This budget sends a clear message that we can't afford to wait any longer if we want to get healthcare costs under control and improve our fiscal outlook," she added.

The budget calls for improving efficiencies and bringing down costs in Medicare and Medicaid through reform,  as well as cracking down on fraud.

"We estimate that for every $1 we spend to stop fraud in the system, we save $1.55," Sebelius said. "The president's budget lays out funding for anti-fraud efforts over five years that we estimate could save $2.7 billion by improving overall oversight and stopping fraud and abuse within the Medicare Advantage and Medicare prescription drug programs."

The president's 2010 budget would increase access and improve the quality of care for rural Americans and includes increased funding for Native American healthcare. The budget also calls for more than $1 billion in funding to increase the number of nurses, doctors and healthcare workers, with a focus on underserved areas.

The budget sets aside $584 million to help prepare for and combat pandemic flu and increases funding for the Food and Drug Administration to help ensure the safety of food and medicine.

In addition to budget recommendations, the president announced some budget cuts on Thursday.

Obama said he has charged the Office of Management and Budget to go through the current federal budget "program by program, item by item, line by line" to find ways to save tax dollars.

"Today, the budget office is releasing a first report in this process: a list of more than one hundred programs slated to be reduced or eliminated altogether. And the process is ongoing," he said.

All told, the president is recommending 121 budget cuts that are designed toi save $17 billion next year. Included among them is the elimination of federal subsidies for health insurance companies through Medicare,  which the president expects will save roughly $22 billion each year, starting in 2012. Obama said this is part of a broader effort to reduce healthcare costs.

With the Congressional budget resolution passed, it's up to the various appropriations committees to allot the funding for a final vote, usually by some time in the fall. 


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