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Bush's CDC budget focuses on bioterrorism | (UPI) -- President Bush requested a $61 million increase in the 2004 budget for the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention on Monday, with most of the agency's budget slated for bioterrorism preparedness and programs to prevent chronic diseases and AIDS.

"In this budget, we are redoubling and building on our commitments to make Americans better prepared to respond to any kind of attack or disease outbreak," said Health and Human Services Secretary Tommy Thompson. HHS oversees CDC and other public health agencies.

The president's $6.5 billion budget proposal for CDC calls for $1.1 billion for bioterrorism preparedness, including $940 million to help improve state and local public health departments. More than $150 million will be slated to improve CDC's internal bioterrorism programs and $18 million will be directed toward applied anthrax research.

"I absolutely like that," Georges Benjamin, executive director of the American Public Health Association, told United Press International. The "continuation of bioterrorism preparedness funding for the state and local health departments" is a good thing, Benjamin said.

Bush also called for millions of dollars to go toward programs to prevent chronic diseases.

"The president and I want to prevent diabetes, obesity, asthma and many other chronic diseases," Thompson said. "We included $125 million in the budget, a $100 million increase, to support community initiatives that help people lead healthier lives and prevent diseases."

Benjamin supported that approach as well because it will "address some of the leading causes of death."

However, Sen. Edward Kennedy, D-Mass., noted, "in a budgetary sleight of hand," Bush's proposed increases "actually offset $96 million in proposed or actual cuts to the same CDC programs."

In addition, Kennedy said, "the Senate omnibus cuts fiscal year 2003 funding by $1.6 million," which amounts to a net funding increase of only $18 million for chronic disease prevention programs. This is an insufficient sum, Kennedy argued, considering HHS has said the money would be used to prevent as many as 100,000 Americans from developing diabetes, up to 150,000 from becoming obese and another 50,000 from being hospitalized for asthma.

The budget proposal calls for $211 million for the national breast and cervical cancer early screening detection program, a $10 million increase over FY 2003. The increase would expand screening of at-risk women, particularly minorities, and could lead to an additional 32,000 screenings.

Benjamin, who served as secretary of health for Maryland, also supported that increase because the breast and cervical cancer screening program "was a really valued program" at the state level.

Bush's budget requests $1.28 billion for AIDS programs. This includes $690 million to support prevention programs in the states and $294 million for the Global AIDS Program, which strives to fund programs to reduce HIV transmission in the poorest areas of the world. Also included is $150 million for the prevention of mother-to-child transmission of AIDS, with the aim of targeting 1 million HIV-infected women and reducing the rate of HIV/AIDS transmission to their infants by 40 percent.

Addressing shortages of vaccines for childhood diseases, Bush's proposal calls for a six-month stockpile of all routinely recommended childhood vaccines, allotting $707 million from 2003 to 2006 to pay for this effort.

The proposal also calls for legislation to be developed that will improve access for uninsured children to vaccines. The initiative would add tetanus and diphtheria to the mandatory vaccines for children program, which provides free medications to Medicaid recipients. The budget allocates $165 million to increase price caps to cover adding the tetanus vaccine. Price caps were so low in 1998 that no vendor would bid on the tetanus vaccine contract and it was removed from the vaccine program.

"Everybody agrees there should be a stockpile," Benjamin said, but he noted Bush's budget proposal also shows a $28 million decrease in immunization funding. It appears the proposal reduces funding for some state-based immunization programs, he said, adding, "This is really just moving the money around."

Kennedy agreed. "At best, the budget will have a modest improvement in access," he said. "At worst, it will have practically no improvement in access."

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