HEALTH SPENDING: HHS Bill Includes Controversial Riders
A Clinton administration directive that ordered state Medicaid programs to cover Viagra would be overturned if a massive spending bill approved yesterday by the House Appropriations Committee becomes law. The measure would allow states to spend their own money on the drug without "federal pressure." After passing a "flat ban" on federal reimbursements for Pfizer's anti-impotence drug, the House panel settled on an exception for its use in post-surgical cases (Rogers, Wall Street Journal, 7/15). The $100 million in savings resulting from the Viagra funding ban would be transferred to mental health programs "to improve services for children with emotional problems that may lead to violence" (Baumann/Koffler, CongressDaily/A.M., 7/15). The Viagra provision was part of a $290.1 billion appropriations bill that funds the departments of Labor, Health and Human Services and Education for fiscal year 1999. The mammoth appropriations bill, which passed the committee 32-23, was one leg in the race on Capitol Hill to pass next year's spending measures before the new fiscal year begins Oct. 1, the Wall Street Journal reports (7/15).
Not Too Happy
President Clinton called the bill -- which nixed several administration priorities -- "fundamentally flawed" and threatened to veto it when it comes across his desk, CongressDaily/A.M. reports. When the administration issued its Viagra policy July 2, many of the nation's governors balked at mandate that they pay for Viagra (7/15). In a letter last week, Ohio Gov. George Voinovich (R) urged Health and Human Services Secretary Donna Shalala to re-examine the government directive, saying he would rather spend the state's money on programs for kids and seniors ( AP/Cleveland Plain Dealer, 7/15).
Federally funded family planning clinics will be required to notify parents before prescribing contraceptives under another section of the spending bill. The amendment, penned by Rep. Ernest Istook (R-OK) and passed 32-24, exempts teens with a court order or written parental consent, but still is expected to face opposition from the Clinton administration, the Washington Times reports (Godfrey, 7/15). Also included in the bill was a provision -- introduced by Rep. Nita Lowey (D-NY) and approved by the committee 29-25 -- that would require managed care health plans to cover direct access to OB/GYNs, an issue sure to be hotly-debated in the upcoming battle over patients' rights legislation (Fram, AP/Nando.net, 7/15) The committee rejected a provision that "would have required 'firewalls' between family planning clinics and those providing abortion services" (CongressDaily/A.M., 7/15). The bill also included "higher spending for the National Institutes of Health," at the expense of "[f]uel-assistance and summer jobs programs for the poor" (Wall Street Journal, 7/15).
Republicans and Democrats disagree on the implications of the mammoth bill: Republicans say it "reflects the tough decisions necessary to stick with" last year's balanced budget agreement; Democrats say "it is a sure sign that the days of bipartisan cooperation from that deal are over" (Washington Times, 7/15). Rep. John Porter (R-IL), who heads the House Appropriations subcommittee on Labor-HHS spending, said he is skeptical the bill will pass the full chamber. "I think it's going to be tough, but it's been tough before," he said (CongressDaily/A.M., 7/15).