WASHINGTON -- President Clinton yesterday signed into law the first federal initiative aimed at helping coma victims, providing millions of dollars to improve research and treatment and putting a national spotlight on brain-injury as a major health problem.
Under the Traumatic Brain Injury Act, the federal government will earmark $24.5 million over the next three years to come up with a nationwide plan to deal with the medical needs of the 250,000 Americans each year who suffer severe head injuries. The House and Senate approved the measure two weeks ago.
Brain injury has been called the No. 1 killer of Americans under age 40, with an estimated 60,000 U.S. deaths expected this year. Federal estimates of the yearly expense from brain injury range from $37 billion to $98 billion, a cost borne mostly by taxpayers.
Yet, unlike other major illnesses, brain injury received little attention until the 1980s because most victims died at the scene. With medical technology improvements, nearly 90 percent of patients survive, requiring costly care and years of therapy.
David Satcher, director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, said the legislation is the first of its kind for brain injury. "We feel a lot more needs to be done in terms of research," he said.
Over the next three years, the law calls for:
$15 million to improve care on the local level for patients with head injuries. Studies will look for the best ways to provide services and also bolster public prevention programs.
Another $9 million is authorized for the CDC to establish research projects into coma and other head-injury problems. Along with the CDC, the National Institutes of Health will also be able to provide "seed money" for new studies.
With the bill's remaining funds, the secretary of health and human services will be required to determine the exact number of brain-injury cases nationwide and to develop a "uniform reporting system" to keep track of these injuries.
The agency also must identify common therapies used by brain-injury patients and hold a national conference on how to manage the treatment of brain injury.
A 1989 national task force called for a national reporting system for brain-injury cases and creation of 15 regional head-injury pTC centers around the nation.
But the task force's report was ignored. Similarly, versions of the brain-injury law lingered on Capitol Hill for years.
"This gets our foot in the front door so we can figure out a direction for improvements in care," said Greg Goodale, government affairs director for the national Brain Injury Association, the largest coma recovery group.
Pub Date: 7/30/96