Will new administration mean changes for TB?

New HHS head one to watch

When a new, more conservative presidential administration took over in January, TB experts were quick to spot at least one silver lining. Widespread conventional wisdom in the TB community has it that chances for passage of the new TB standard proposed by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration are considerably dimmer than before.

But those who get paid to fret about such things say they’re looking anxiously at new administration appointments - in particular, the new Secretary of Health and Human Services, former Wisconsin Gov. Tommy Thompson.

"We’re watching his strong interest in state experimentation, which could be read to mean block grants," says Gary Billings, a spokesman for the New York City-based American Lung Association (ALA). Thompson himself hasn’t mentioned the dreaded "B" word, Billings hastens to point out. It’s just that the former governor is known for having retooled his own state’s welfare system and for having a less-than-reverent attitude toward federal control of programs (Thompson has referred to the nation’s capital as "Disneyland East").

"He’s also made a series of comments in which he says states should be innovators in health care policy and that he’d like to give them more power and authority," adds Billings.

On the brighter side, the ALA has approached U.S. Sen. Henry Waxman about the possibility of the legislator introducing an omnibus TB bill, Billings reports. ALA chief Fran DuMelle has been hard at work on the omnibus bill, along with representatives from the National Coalition to Eliminate Tuberculosis. The bill will seek authority (and, of course, funding) to carry out projects outlined in a recent Institute of Medicine report, says Billings. Chief among the projects will be in-country TB screening of immigrants from high-burden countries.