Can we have our public health prevention stuff back in the stimulus, please?

Another broken irony meter. The Senate has removed two “questionable” items in the stimulus bill: $400 million for HIV/STI prevention and $75 million for smoking cessation services. Fortunately they are about to add $20-$30 billion in amendments for physical infrastructure.

Some of the smallest non-pork items in the entire stimulus bill were the resources devoted to under-funded public health projects. A trainload of studies backs up the cost-effectiveness of these interventions. They would support a public health enterprise that, by all accounts, is particularly challenged and under-funded as we leave the Bush years. Today’s Boston Globe/AP story reports without irony the following passage:

At the same time, Democrats have already dropped two questionable items in the plan – $75 million for smoking cessation programs and $400 million to slow the spread of HIV and other sexually transmitted diseases – from the most recent draft of the measure.

Democrats were prepared to offer amendments to add $20 billion to $30 billion more for infrastructure programs such as roads, bridges, mass transit, and water projects, said Senator Charles Schumer of New York.

Raise your hand if you believe that the 11-figures of itty bitty items added in-amendment will prove less questionable than the offending public health items.

Author: Harold Pollack

Harold Pollack is Helen Ross Professor of Social Service Administration at the University of Chicago. He has served on three expert committees of the National Academies of Science. His recent research appears in such journals as Addiction, Journal of the American Medical Association, and American Journal of Public Health. He writes regularly on HIV prevention, crime and drug policy, health reform, and disability policy for American Prospect,, and other news outlets. His essay, "Lessons from an Emergency Room Nightmare" was selected for the collection The Best American Medical Writing, 2009. He recently participated, with zero critical acclaim, in the University of Chicago's annual Latke-Hamentaschen debate.