- The Washington Times - Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Stimulus bill to boost health care

While Congress this week continues to tinker and bicker over details in its push for an $800-billion-plus economic stimulus package, the latest version includes more than $30 billion worth of health care, medical and nutrition-related items.

The proposal, which is changing almost hourly, as of Monday called for at least $14 billion for health care spending, including $3 billion to jump-start efforts to create a national computerized medical records system; $10 billion for biomedical research in areas such as cancer, Alzheimer’s, heart disease and stem cell use; and to improve National Institutes of Health facilities.

Other health care and medical items in the proposal are:

• $3.4 billion for job-training grants, with priority consideration to “green” jobs and health care jobs.

• $16.5 billion for the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (formally referred to as food stamps).

• $314.5 million for military family health care clinics.

• $505 million “to meet the medical and social service needs” of wounded military personnel and their families.

• $3.7 billion for Veterans Affairs (VA) hospitals and medical facility construction and improvements, long-term care facilities for veterans and improvements at VA national cemeteries.

Whether these items will make it into the final stimulus bill is uncertain, as senators already have scaled back heath care spending by $7 billion on their way to a compromise deal brokered Friday.

Governor to head HHS?

With Tom Daschle out of the running for health and human services secretary after his highly publicized tax problems, President Obama may turn to a governor to head the department.

The administration is vetting Democrats Kathleen Sebelius of Kansas and Phil Bredesen of Tennessee for the Cabinet post, according to the Beltway rumor mill. Both have significant health care-related experience.

Mr. Bredesen has a long history with the health industry, having founding HealthAmerica Corp, a health care management company that eventually grew to more than 6,000 employees. He sold the company in 1986 for millions of dollars, and because of his wealth, he does not accept a gubernatorial salary.

Mrs. Sebelius is a former state insurance commissioner with experience regulating health insurers, which earned her high marks from consumer watchdog groups. She also was an early supporter of Mr. Obama’s presidential bid and frequently was named as a possible vice-presidential candidate.

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