Senate panel approves HHS approps bill

Senate appropriators on Tuesday approved the Democrats' health spending blueprint for fiscal 2011, including a hike of $250 million to fight Medicare fraud and a $1 billion increase in biomedical research.

Sen. Tom Harkin (D-Iowa), chairman of the Appropriations Labor-Health and Human Services (HHS) subcommittee, said the bill strikes a balance between (1) spending on safety-net programs amid an unemployment crisis and (2) recognizing the long-term threat of astronomical deficit spending.

"Although the economy is expanding again, far too many Americans still can’t find a job, and the threat of a double-dip recession looms large," Harkin said in a statement. "In the longer term, the national debt continues to rise to dangerous levels. … The Labor-HHS bill must respond to both of these challenges."

Like the House version of the HHS funding bill, Harkin's proposal would provide a large increase in anti-fraud programs under Medicare and Medicaid.

It also provides $32 billion for biomedical research at the National Institutes of Health (NIH), a $1 billion hike above 2010 levels.

The American Heart Association (AHA) on Tuesday praised the additional NIH funding — with an asterisk.

AHA President Ralph Sacco said the increase represents "a much-needed boost to heart disease and stroke research."

"However," he added in a statement, "more funding is needed to reduce the burden of disease and make significant gains in our efforts to help all Americans live longer, healthier and productive lives."

Sen. Arlen Specter has an amendment that would provide additional NIH funding, but the Pennsylvania Democrat declined to offer it during the subcommittee markup.

The funding bill now moves to the full Appropriations panel.