Harkin releases hold in battle over wellness funds

2013-05-07T11:32:00Z 2013-05-07T23:50:11Z Harkin releases hold in battle over wellness fundsEd Tibbetts etibbetts@qctimes.com The Quad-City Times

U.S. Sen. Tom Harkin, D-Iowa, said Tuesday he would allow the nomination for a key administration post to go forward, even as he accused the Obama administration of reneging on its commitment to a part of the Affordable Care Act.

Harkin said on the Senate floor Tuesday he would release the hold he had put on Marilyn Tavenner to be the new head of the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, an important agency in the implementation of the law.

Tavenner is now the agency's acting director.

Harkin had held up the nomination because he was unhappy over the diversion of money from a $15 billion pot of money aimed for public health and prevention initiatives. Last month, he complained at a hearing that the administration's new budget proposal would divert $332 million.

Harkin said Tuesday the administration has refused to reverse course, but that he would still release his hold because "it is urgent to have an effective leader at the helm of CMS as we enter a critical stage in implementing the Affordable Care Act."

At the same time, he said the administration was making a grave mistake. "This administration has reneged on its commitment to prevention. This is a bad policy choice.  And this choice will have serious, negative consequences for the health of the American people," he said.

The funding, he said, goes toward such things as smoking cessation and immunization programs that improve public health and save money in the long run.

The administration declined comment Tuesday on Harkin's remarks.

At a hearing last month, Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius defended the diversion of money to the soon-to-be created health insurance exchanges, saying the money will bolster efforts to extend coverage to people who don't have it.

She also emphasized all insurance policies in every state exchange will offer prevention programs without co-pays.

The Prevention and Public Health Fund has been under pressure nearly since its creation. Critics call it a slush fund, and congressional Republicans, along with trying to deep-six the entire law, have proposed siphoning money from the fund for a number of other purposes.

The largest diversion came at the end of last year when $5 billion in the fund was used to help pay for a bipartisan deal to extend a payroll tax cut and avoid a sharp reduction in physician payments.

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