Bob Mook is the editorial manager of the Colorado Health Foundation.
For most people, life as they know it seems to be carrying on despite the massive sequestration on federal spending that went into effect on March 1, 2013.
Triggered after Congress and President Obama failed to reach an agreement on a long-term plan to shrink the federal deficit by $4 trillion, sequestration sets into motion automatic budget cuts to reduce the national debt by $1.2 trillion in the course of 10 years.
Many economists, however, warn that sequestration will hurt the economy. In fact, the Congressional Budget Office estimates it will slow down economic growth by 0.6 percent in 2013. Observers also have raised concerns about the impact of sequestration on the health care sector as well as the general health and well-being of Coloradans.
For example, sequestration reduces all Medicare payments by 2 percent – impacting health professionals who provide services to the elderly nationwide. It also enacts cuts to discretionary-spending programs, including those supporting clinical research, workforce training and community health centers.
Sequestration will be felt throughout Colorado by health care professionals, medical product manufacturers and other health stakeholders. For more details, see this March 2 article in The Denver Post.
Most means-tested programs for low-income individuals are exempt from the sequestration – including Medicaid, the state and federal partnership that provides coverage for people with lower incomes, older people, those with disabilities, pregnant women and some families and children. The Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (or SNAP) program, which provides food subsidies to millions of eligible individuals and families, also is immune to such cuts.
Having said that, there are still areas pertaining to health and health care that will impact Coloradans, including the following, according to a fact sheet from The White House:
Vaccines for children: In Colorado, around 2,240 fewer children will receive vaccines for diseases such as measles, mumps, rubella, tetanus, whooping cough, influenza and Hepatitis B, due to reduced funding for vaccinations of about $153,000.
Public health: Colorado will lose approximately $480,000 in funds to help upgrade its ability to respond to public health threats including infectious diseases, natural disasters, and biological, chemical, nuclear and radiological events. Additionally, Colorado will lose about $1.3 million in grants to prevent and treat substance abuse, resulting in about 3,500 fewer admissions to substance abuse programs.
Nutrition assistance for seniors: Colorado would lose approximately $720,000 in funds that provide meals for seniors.
Community health centers: A report from House Appropriations Democrats estimates sequestration will reduce federal funding for community health centers by about $120 million. While the total Colorado impact is unknown, it's estimated that community health centers in the state could collectively lose as much as $5.4 million in federal funding.
Putting these cuts in perspective, remember that just as the federal government taketh away, it also giveth. Case in point: Though cuts from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services will take about $120 million from community health centers nationwide, President Obama's budget proposal allocates $3.8 billion for community health centers (including $2.2 billion in mandatory funding provided though the Affordable Care Act's Community Health Center Fund). Of course, there's no telling what those numbers will look like after they run through the legislative mill.
All told, the short-term impact of sequestration on your health depends largely on where you live, how much money you make and your age. But if economists and observers are correct, it appears that all of us will pay for it in some way.