On Wednesday, I attended a Senate Appropriations health subcommittee hearing on President Obama's fiscal year 2013 budget proposal for the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS). Testifying at the hearing was HHS Secretary -- and former Kansas governor -- Kathleen Sebelius. During the hearing, I raised the following Kansas health care concerns with Sec. Sebelius:
* Cuts to Rural Hospitals -- The President's proposed budget seeks to cut Medicare reimbursements to the Critical Access Hospital (CAH) program in 2013, and completely the CAH reimbursement for certain rural hospitals in 2014. While I believe that Congress must reduce federal spending and lower our national debt, I am concerned with proposals that would disproportionately affect rural hospitals in Kansas and other rural states, jeopardizing health care access for rural residents and threatening the survival of small towns. 65 percent of Kansas' hospitals are CAHs and they -- along with other rural hospitals -- already operate on thin or negative margins to provide care to an increasingly aging population across a wide area. If these facilities are further squeezed, many hospitals will be forced to close and others will have to limit services and postpone updating medical equipment.
* Inviting the CSM Acting Administrator to Kansas -- On February 17th, I invited Ms. Marilyn Tavenner, Acting Administrator of the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS), to join me in Kansas to tour a health care facility in our state and meet with Kansas doctors, nurses, and other health care providers. This hearing gave me the opportunity to reiterate my invitation to Acting Administrator Tavenner. CMS is the division of HHS responsible for administering Medicare and Medicaid. Many of Kansas' hospitals, clinics, pharmacies and other providers operate on tight margins to provide quality care to Medicare and Medicaid beneficiaries across a wide area. Each time I visit one of these facilities, I learn something new about the unique challenges they face and I hope Ms. Tavenner will join me on a visit.
* Effect of NIH Budget Freeze on Medical Research -- The President's budget proposal freezes the National Institutes of Health (NIH) budget, while it proposes significant increases for other divisions within HHS, including close to $1 billion increases for both CMS and the U.S. Food and Drug Administration. After taking into account inflation, the President's request of a flat budget for NIH would result in a reduction of approximately 3 percent in NIH's "buying power." Under this scenario, I am concerned that the potential for research advancements of NIH grants will be severely reduced. In addition to the vital importance of finding cures and treatments for disease, advancing medical research through NIH is also important to our country's economic growth and to strengthening our position as a world leader in research and innovation. If researchers cannot rely on consistent support from Congress, we will squander current progress, stunt America's global competitiveness, and lose younger generations of doctors and scientists to alternative career paths.