The Senate Appropriations Committee gave HHS and the departments of labor and education a $5 billion, or 3.7%, funding increase for fiscal 2004, approving a combined budget of $137.6 billion on a 25-4 vote. The House Appropriations Committee, meanwhile, last week approved a slightly higher budget -- $137.9 billion. Both bills must pass their respective chambers and then be reconciled. The Senate appropriations bill would boost funding for community health centers to $1.6 billion, a $122 million increase over 2003; hospitals would receive $518 million for terrorism preparation, approximately the same as in 2003; and pediatric graduate medical education would receive $290 million, about one-third more than President Bush requested.
In other legislative news, a bill to cap noneconomic damages at $250,000 in medical malpractice cases was introduced in the Senate by Sen. John Ensign (R-Nev.). The House passed a similar bill in March. At deadline, it was unclear when lawmakers would take up Ensign's bill. According to a statement from his office, Republican Senate leadership has endorsed the proposal. -- by Jeff Tieman