This week, I met ten-year-old Anna Lipsman. Anna is a bright, outgoing young girl who is fighting leukemia. Diagnosed just a few months ago, Anna spent two weeks undergoing treatment at the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia. Anna spoke glowingly about the doctors at the hospital who were providing excellent care. She is successfully fighting her disease, but will still need additional treatments over the next two and a half years.
Anna was a strong, personal reminder of why I introduced a bill earlier this year to help train pediatricians. H.R. 1852 reauthorizes the federal Children’s Hospital Graduate Medical Education (CHGME) program.
In the late 1990s, our country was facing a significant shortage of pediatricians. Government assistance to train doctors was funneling through Medicare, meaning that there was less help for doctors thinking about going into pediatrics. The CHGME program helped correct this dangerous imbalance.
The program was created with bipartisan support, and has been reapproved with the support of both parties. Now, however, the program is facing elimination.
President Obama’s fiscal year 2012 budget eliminated the program without providing a clear alternative. The President says he wants to concentrate on training primary care physicians, but this is no substitute for doctors trained specifically to meet the needs of young patients.
Right now, the CHGME program is responsible for training 40 percent of pediatricians in the United States. Additionally, the program trains 43 percent of pediatric subspecialties. These subspecialties include pediatric oncologists, trained to treat cancer, and NICU doctors, trained to care for premature infants.
According to the National Cancer Institute, five-year survival rates for childhood cancer improved from less than 60 percent in 1977 to nearly 80 percent in 2003. Making it harder to become a pediatric oncologist will mean fewer doctors with the specific knowledge to treat the smallest cancer patients. We shouldn’t lose the progress we’ve made in childhood cancer and other maladies affecting children.
We all know about the budget pressure that the federal government is under right now. The CHGME program costs around $300 million a year. However, I believe we can find the funds to pay for this successful program. I believe the President is cutting a successful program at the expense of new programs created by last year’s health care law.
Earlier this year, I chaired a Health Subcommittee hearing to investigate some of these new programs. Next year, the Secretary of Health and Human Services will have the exclusive power to spend a $1 billion slush fund for public health programs. Congress will have no oversight over these programs. We don’t know what programs this money will go toward or whether the money will be effectively spent.
There was also $200 million to construct school-based health centers. A new facility is useless if we don’t have well-trained medical professionals to treat children. These are just two examples of new and unproven programs that we are funding instead of CHGME. We have to get our priorities straight.
This isn’t a partisan issue. While Democrats and Republicans often disagree about government health programs, there is bipartisan support for my legislation. I introduced this bill in cooperation with Rep. Frank Pallone (D-NJ), the Ranking Member on the Health Subcommittee. Right now, the bill has 111 Democrat and Republican cosponsors from across the country.
This week, the Energy and Commerce Committee unanimously approved my legislation, clearing the way for it to be considered on the House floor. Sen. Bob Casey, Jr. (D-PA) has a similar bill in the Senate. I hope that we can work together to send a bill to the President before the program expires on Sept. 30.
The Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia runs the largest pediatric residency program in the country. In Pennsylvania, the Children’s Hospital of Pittsburgh and St. Christopher’s Children’s Hospital also participate in the CHGME program. Bright young men and women are dedicating their lives to treating children. We need to make sure that they have the support to keep our kids healthy.