GOP health plan bill puts $1B CDC funding for disease prevention at risk

Among the potential casualties of the GOP’s bill to repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act: $1 billion for the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to fund essential public health programs, including the prevention of disease outbreaks.

The fund was created in 2010 under the Affordable Care Act to prevent illness and reduce healthcare costs.

Although it’s possible the CDC won’t lose all the funding if the bill fails or is amended, public health officials are worried. The bill passed two committees in the House on Thursday after hours of debate.

The funds make up about 12% or roughly $900 million of the agency’s $12 billion budget and supports the monitoring of infectious diseases, efforts to reduce hospital-acquired infections and programs that support diabetes, cancer, heart disease, stroke and lead poisoning prevention.

Public health experts are especially concerned about the loss of the funding given the rise in antibiotic-resistant superbugs.

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"We don't have a lot of time," Anne Schuchat, acting CDC director, told NBC News. "Resistance is a problem now, because it is a threat to modern medicine itself." 

Earlier this month a group of 500 public health organizations wrote (PDF) President Donald Trump a letter warning him of the “dire consequences” of repealing the fund.

“Despite the growing and geographically disparate burden of largely preventable diseases, health threats such as the opioid epidemic, and emerging infectious disease outbreaks such as the Zika virus, federal disease prevention and public health programs remain critically underfunded," the letter said. “Public health spending is still below pre-recession levels, having remained relatively flat for years. The CDC’s budget authority has actually decreased by 11.4% since FY 2010 adjusted for inflation, and the Prevention Fund has helped to make up the difference."

But their appeals may fall on deaf ears. Republican lawmakers have long criticized the funding and are anxious to get rid of it.

“Look, it’s a slush fund,” Congressman Andy Harris of Maryland, a Republican physician who sits on the House appropriations health subcommittee, told STAT. “It’s been used by the secretary [of health and human services] for whatever the secretary wants. It’s a misnomer to call it the Prevention and Public Health Fund, because it’s been used for other things, and it’s about time we eliminated it.”