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Satcher to play key role in minority health issues – US Surgeon General David Satcher

David Satcher’s confirmation as U.S. Surgeon General will give the
former Meharry Medical College president a leading role in a new
Clinton administration effort to improve health care for people of

Satcher, Meharry’s president from 1982 to 1993, won Senate
confirmation February 10 and was installed in the post at a White House
ceremony shortly afterward. He won confirmation by a 63-35 vote after
moderate Republicans joined Democrats in defeating a filibuster from

One of Satcher’s first priorities is to help lead a new
presidential initiative on minority health. President Bill Clinton used
his national radio address on February 21 to announce the new, $400
million program designed to eliminate health disparities between Whites
and minorities.

The president said the plan would help address some troubling
trends, including data showing that prostate cancer affects twice as
many Blacks as Whites. Diabetes also is three times more prevalent
among American Indians than among Whites, said Clinton, who called such
disparities “unacceptable.”

Funds for the $40-million plan would flow over a five-year period,
not counting expected contributions from the private sector. Major
philanthropic organizations would kick off the effort with a national
conference on minority health this spring, according to the White House.

As the nation’s top physician, Satcher would help direct this
effort, officials said. The Surgeon General most recently served as
director of the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC)
before his confirmation.

The new initiative also would provide a new focus on minority
health at a time when similar federal programs may have to face cuts.
For instance, the federal government’s Office on Minority Health (OMH)
would get less money next year under the President’s new budget request.

Headquartered at the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS),
OMH would receive $23 million next year, $6 million less than current
funding. The office seeks to improve health services, combat diseases,
and conduct research on issues affecting minority groups.

HHS, however, said the reduction would not affect ongoing research
and outreach projects, some of which involve Black colleges. The 1998
funding level contained a one-time increase to support a new technology
infrastructure and a one-time construction project, HHS said.

The HHS budget also contains $291 million for health-professions
training, including efforts to support diversity. Federal programs
include Centers of Excellence, which serve about 4,000
under-represented students at medical, dental, and pharmacy schools.

Additionally, the new budget contains $80 million to address racial health disparities, the agency said.

But the president’s latest plan would give minority health a new
visibility, both within the government and in urban areas, Of the $400
million in the president’s latest proposal, about $30 million a year
would go to at-risk communities to focus on one or two healthcare
problems. The remainder of funds would go to the CDC to focus on areas
such as diabetes, child immunizations, HIV/AIDS, cancer screening and
management and infant mortality.

The new initiative also shows that Satcher, who has directed the
CDC since 1993, has gained a central role in the administration
following an unexpectedly tough confirmation battle that featured
opposition from many right-wing Republicans.

Conservatives had opposed Satcher’s nomination in part because he
refused to speak out against late-term abortions, a practice
conservatives refer to as “partial-birth abortions.” And he also came
under criticism because he would give youngsters access to federally
funded family planning services without parental consent.

Earlier, Sen. John Ashcroft (R-Mo.) had called the Satcher
nomination “a direct assault on the values of millions of pro-family

However, Satcher had strong support among GOP moderates —
including Sen. Bill First (R-Tenn.), a physician who chairs the
Senate’s health subcommittee.

Satcher has entered a job left vacant for more than three years
following the resignation of Joycelyn Elders, M.D., who faced criticism
for her comments on sexuality. Clinton’s last nominee for the job,
obstetrician Henry Foster, M.D., face opposition after he acknowledged
performing several abortions in his medical practice.

COPYRIGHT 1998 Cox, Matthews & Associates

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