What Is The Sequester? How Does It Affect You?

Money In A ViseDespite the immense impact it will have on American citizens, the sequestration that began March 1, 2013 has yet to capture the public’s attention at large. The sequester, or setting of widespread, $1.2 trillion federal budget cuts was a plan put in place in 2011 by the Budget Control Act as a way to force Congress into developing a long term deficit reduction plan. Though the cuts will be applied over 10 years, $85 billion of the cuts will be applied through the remaining 2013 fiscal year.

Many programs will be affected by the automatic budget cuts. Fortunately, there were programs that were able to escape reduced funding allocations. Among the safeguarded programs were the Children’s Health Insurance Program, Medicaid, Pell Grants, and Food Stamps.

Not nearly as lucky and receiving federal budget cuts are defense spending and domestic programs including: national parks and recreation, Federal Bureau of Investigations and defense spending.

Many individuals will see the sequester hit home through their healthcare as many public health programs will receive reduced funding.

Sequester Effects on Health

Both domestically and globally, efforts to combat the spread of HIV will be undermined by sequestration. In the United States, fewer HIV tests will be administered by the Public Health Department, affecting an estimated 425,000 people. Humanitarian aid will be cut by $600 million and more than 170,000 individuals worldwide will not be able to access AIDS medications which could in turn cause thousands of deaths and the orphanage of many children.

Lower income women will also feel the effects of the federal budget cuts when reductions in breast and cervical cancer screening programs go in to effect and cuts to the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants, and Children (otherwise known as WIC) are realized. As of December 2012, the WIC program assisted over 9 million individuals with nutritious counseling and food on the monthly basis.

Seniors will have funding reduced for programs like Meals on Wheels, where nutritional foods are provided for chronically ill, diet affected individuals. The Medicare budget, already an issue for many healthcare providers, is being cut by 2%.

Food safety concerns related to sequestration exist on a national level due to $65 million in funding cut from the Food and Drug Administration. Already, there were mounting concerns about the state of food safety standards due to high numbers of US food recalls in 2012. The sequestration cuts deal another weighted blow.

Of the effect of the budget cuts, FDA Commissioner Margaret Hamberg said, “We’re going to be struggling with how to really grapple with the cuts of sequestration … clearly we will be able to provide less of the oversight functions and we won’t be able to broaden our reach to new facilities either, so inevitably that increases risk”

Mental health programs, another topic that has been on trend in the media, will also be receiving decreased funding due to the federal budget cuts. According to a White House Fact Sheet, the Mental Health Block Grant Program is at risk, causing up to 373,000 seriously mentally ill adults and seriously emotionally disturbed children to go untreated.

Mental illness has been at the center of the gun control debate spurred by the December 14, 2012 shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary in Newtown, Conn.

What Can You Do?

Become acquainted with the sequestration, Email and call your area politicians. Let them know how you feel about the issues. While you may not be able to speak directly to your representative, their offices will track comments and calls.

Additionally, these federal budget cuts make obtaining health insurance even more important. To add to the stipulations set forth by the Affordable Care Act, many of the government supported programs that were once used for flu shots and screenings may not be in place or available to everyone.

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