New health secretary may cut programs in wake of 2003 budget deficit

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Michael Leavitt, President George W. Bush's new choice for secretary of the Department of Health and Human Services, may attempt to cut Medicare and Medicaid funding to help ease the federal budget deficit. That has been the wide speculation out of Washington since his appointment this week.

The two programs are growing from their current nearly $500 billion per year cost. They are seen as especially vulnerable to financial cuts, given the 2003 $413 billion budget deficit, the costs of the war in Iraq, the administration's plans to change Social Security without raising taxes, and expensive domestic security measures.

It all "points to Medicaid potentially taking a very large hit," according to Ron Pollack, executive director of consumer group Families USA.

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