DeLauro to medical students: ‘We need your voices’ to ensure health reform

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Rosa DeLauro

“We need your voices.” That plea, from Congresswoman Rosa DeLauro, was directed at 150 Yale School of Medicine (YSM) students gathered in the Hope Memorial Building auditorium.

DeLauro, a Democrat who represents Connecticut’s Third District (which includes New Haven) in the House of Representatives, came to Yale on Oct. 20 to ask for help in fighting budget cuts that could severely impact biomedical research funding at Yale and other academic research centers, as well as the education of future healthcare professionals and the delivery of clinical services.

One of the biggest Congressional targets could be the National Institutes of Health (NIH), which funds 85% of Yale’s federal research portfolio. When DeLauro last visited YSM last February, she toured the lab of Dr. Stephen Strittmatter, who is doing cutting-edge research into neurological injuries and diseases such as Alzheimer’s.

During the February visit, DeLauro sounded the alarm that House Republicans were prepared to cut more than a billion dollars from the 2012 NIH budget. This time, DeLauro came bearing better news. She said it appears that the “blueprint” for the 2012 budget, as proposed by House Republicans, will maintain current NIH funding for basic medical research.

But she warned students that the budget had not yet passed, and that an even bigger problem remains: Severe cuts to healthcare funding could come over the next couple of months from the Joint Select Committee on Deficit Reduction, better known as the “Super Committee,” which was established in the bitter, partisan debt-limit standoff this summer. The panel has been charged with cutting the federal budget deficit by at least $1.2 trillion over the next 10 years, and if Congress does not approve reduction measures by December 23, the law will trigger automatic spending cuts of $1.5 trillion, to be divided between domestic and defense spending.

“I don’t believe defense will be cut,” DeLauro said. “I submit that the brunt will be on non-defense discretionary spending, which means health, education, and worker training.” DeLauro believes that political factions in Congress are already planning to use the cuts mandated by the Deficit Reduction law as an excuse to kill President Obama’s signature legislation, the Affordable Care Act of 2010 — the Healthcare Reform Law.

DeLauro listed some of the consequences if the healthcare law should be weakened, repealed, or defunded.

“Healthcare professionals (will be) severely impacted. There would be cuts in funds for health professionals and training for primary care, scholarships for disadvantaged students, health education centers, nursing scholarships, and comprehensive geriatric education for nurses.” She added that the cuts would zero-out all these investments made so far in the healthcare workforce.

DeLauro, ranking member on the House Labor, Education, Health and Human Services Appropriations Subcommittee, promised a fight.

“The good news,” she said, “is that these proposals in the House of Representatives are literally dead on arrival — because we’re not the only branch of government. Most of these cuts come under Labor Health Human Services, and I will go to war with the chairman of the committee.”

DeLauro ended on an inspirational note, telling the Yale students, “You’ve chosen a path of medicine, to serve your community by curing disease, by ending suffering. We need your input; we need your expertise. We need your voices. I can stand and speak forever, but I will always be labeled a partisan. You can speak from direct experience.”

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