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Elizabeth Cooney is a health reporter for the Worcester Telegram & Gazette.
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Wednesday, April 11, 2007

Public health expansion slashed in House proposal

By Stephen Smith, Globe Staff

The House Ways and Means Committee today dealt a serious setback to Governor Deval Patrick's proposal to significantly expand public health services, eliminating or scaling back several of the governor's key initiatives.

The House budget contains no money for cervical cancer vaccines for girls, while Patrick had proposed spending $12.5 million to inoculate about 42,000 11- and 12-year-olds.

"I'm disappointed," said John Auerbach, the state's new public health commissioner. "I believe that making the vaccine available would have been a valuable public health initiative, given the data that show that this vaccine can be very helpful in terms of preventing cancers."

The governor's call to substantially reinvigorate the state's decimated Tobacco Control Program was also dealt a blow: The House budget contains only $8.2 million for anti-smoking campaigns, compared with Patrick's request for $16.2 million.

The House plan was released on the same day that a national leader in tobacco-control efforts visited Beacon Hill to press his case for restoring the state's once-vaunted campaign to reduce the leading cause of preventable deaths. Matthew Myers, president of the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids, presented Patrick and state health officials with a report showing that sales of cigarettes increased in Massachusetts last year, even as they declined nationally.

"We're deeply disappointed that the House has done so little in the face of such strong evidence about an increase in sales," Myers said.

Overall, the House spending plan for public health programs falls $31.6 million short of Patrick's proposal, according to an analysis by the Massachusetts Public Health Association. The interest group review shows that the budget of the Department of Public Health would remain essentially flat under the House proposal.

Posted by Karen Weintraub at 06:08 PM
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