Health and research programs could be hard hit by automatic budget cuts

WASHINGTON — As many as 100,000 children would fall from the Head Start rolls, and 2,300 new research projects would be at risk of losing funding, according to the Department of Health and Human Services, if $1.2 trillion in automatic budget cuts begin to go into effect Jan. 1 as part of a 10-year congressional deficit-slashing plan.

Much of the attention over so-called sequestration has focused on cuts to the defense budget, which many members in Congress, including most Republicans and some Democrats, oppose. But Democratic leaders worry that lifting some of the proposed cuts to defense spending would translate into deeper cuts into health and human services, including spending on medical research.

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During last fall’s super-committee hearings, Democrats proposed hiking taxes on the country’s wealthiest, among other revenue-raising measures, to reduce the need for budget cuts. But anti-tax Republicans torpedoed such proposals.

About half of the automatic cuts under sequestration will be absorbed by defense programs, while the other half will have to be made across the board in all other federal programs. In all, about $110 billion in cuts will have to be made next year.

As it stands, the automatic cuts likely mean $3.6 billion less for medical research in 2013, according to Research!America. The National Institutes of Health could lose $2.4 billion, which could impact cancer research.

Responding to a request from Representative Edward Markey of Malden, federal health officials said that the “deep discretionary cuts projected by the [Congressional Budget Office] would have profound consequences on the department’s ability to protect Americans’ health and safety and provide critical services to vulnerable populations.’’

The department said 12,150 fewer patients would get assistance with AIDS drugs, 169,000 fewer Americans would get help with substance abuse problems.

According to Markey’s office, the automatic cuts would take $200 million away from Food and Drug Administration safety programs for food, drugs and medical devices. And an $11 billion cut to Medicare next year could mean seniors will have a more difficult time finding a doctor willing to accept patients enrolled in the government health insurance program.

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“These automatic budget cuts will negatively impact every person in America,’’ Markey said. “What is at stake is nothing less than a cure for cancer or Alzheimer’s or other diseases that will save our nation trillions in the coming decades.’’

He called on Republicans to drop their opposition to new revenues.

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