The Senate on Monday night approved by unanimous consent legislation that would authorize federal grants to states and expand statewide trauma care systems.
The American College of Surgeons, which had lobbied intensely for the measure, cheered the Senate's approval of the Trauma Care Systems Planning and Development Act, S 239, which doubles the available funding authorized for the program from $6 million to $12 million for fiscal year 2004.
However, the House Appropriations Committee on Wednesday allocated just $3.5 million in trauma care funding, and the full Senate Appropriations Committee is expected to approve the same amount, which was recommended by the subcommittee that presides over HHS.
"We got $3.5 million in appropriated in a year when a lot of funding was cut for a lot of programs," says ACS lobbyist Adrienne Roberts. "We're happy Congress recognizes the value and importance of the program and hope next year we can get more."
"The science of trauma centers is well developed. Now it needs to be expanded to systems," says Robert Mackersie, M.D., chairman of the ACS trauma subcommittee on systems consultation and director of trauma services at San Francisco General Hospital.
Only half the states have a statewide trauma care system, according to the author of the bill, Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist, M.D. (R-Tenn.). The measure would improve collection and analysis of trauma patient data and respond to budget constraints by decreasing the requirement for states to match federal grants.
It also provides a self-evaluation mechanism for states to identify strengths and weaknesses in their trauma systems and doubles the funding available to expand the program to additional state participation. And the bill authorizes $750,000 for each of fiscal years 2004 and 2005 for an Institute of Medicine study on the state of trauma care and research.
"This legislation will help save lives and improve patients' chances of recovery by ensuring that states have the resources they need to develop, improve and strengthen trauma care systems across the nation," Frist says in a statement.
Many states need that help to build regional, statewide or multi-state systems that provide some "reasonable guarantee" that one is treated in a way that results in the best possible outcome, Mackersie says.
"That requires money," he says, adding that the perception of a need for a system that can respond to terrorist and other hazard threats may have helped win approval in the Senate.
"From the ACS perspective, this is a wonderful first step, but it's a first step," Mackersie says.
Roberts says she expects a companion authorization bill to be introduced in the House in coming weeks by Rep. James Greenwood (R-Pa.).