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House Vote Bars Impotence Drugs From Medicare

Issue of Coverage by Medicare Prescription Benefit Now Goes to Senate
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Some Cuts in Spending Bill

The amendment overshadowed the overall spending bill, which grants $63 billion on federal health programs but includes cuts to several major agencies. Rep. David Obey (Wis.), the senior Democrat on the House Appropriations Committee, expressed frustration that debate about Viagra had, at least temporarily, taken precedence over "what is happening to sick people with this bill."

The CDC faces a $295 million cut to its budget, though the nearly 5% in reductions was less than President Bush had asked for in his budget.

The bill also sends $28.4 billion for research at the National Institutes of Health, a 0.5% increase after five years in which its budget was doubled by Congress. Lawmakers also voted to cut $100 million from the U.S. contribution to the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis, and Malaria, and to cut 84% from a program providing medical training grants to future doctors and nurses.

A $1.8 billion program favored by President Bush to build new community health centers to serve uninsured people got a $100 million boost over last year. But another White House-backed program to fund new electronic health records technology received $3 billion less than the $78 billion Bush had requested.

Meanwhile, the bill gave a more than 10% increase to abstinence-only sex education programs, which remain controversial over questions of their effectiveness in delaying or preventing teens' sexual activity. The federal government would spend $115 million on the programs next year under the bill.

Lawmakers voted 250-151 to pass the spending bill, which faced criticism from some Democrats who said tax cuts favored by Republicans prevented spending on key health programs.

"This is the most important bill that we will consider this year in terms of meeting the needs of the average American family. This bill just doesn't measure up to our national obligations," Obey says.

"When we have less money, we spend less money," Rep. Joel Hefley (R-Colo.) tells WebMD.

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