Policy analysts at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and another, as yet unnamed Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) agency, have been informed to stop using certain terms in documents to be used in next year’s budget, according to a report from The Washington Post.
The Post quoted a policy analyst from the CDC, and an official from the other HHS agency, who stated that briefings outlining the changes in language were held last week. Both staff members spoke under the condition of anonymity. The change in language is intended to be incorporated in budget materials to be given to Congress as part of the president’s 2019 budget, set for release in February, 2018.
In the case of the CDC, The Post reports that analysts were told to stop using the terms ‘vulnerable,’ ‘entitlement,’ ‘diversity,’ ‘transgender,’ ‘fetus,’ ‘evidence-based’ and ‘science-based.’ At the other unnamed HHS agency – where a similar briefing occurred – staff were informed to use ‘Obamacare’ instead of ‘ACA’ or ‘Affordable Care Act’, and ‘exchanges’ instead of ‘marketplaces’.
In response, HHS spokesperson, Matt Lloyd stated that the “HHS will continue to use the best scientific evidence available to improve the health of all Americans. HHS also strongly encourages the use of outcome and evidence data in program evaluations and budget decisions.”
A Food and Drug Administration (FDA) spokesperson, Jennifer Rodriguez, said “We haven’t received, nor implemented, any directives with respect to the language used at FDA to describe our policy or budget issues.”
In lieu of ‘evidence-based’ and ‘science-based’, the CDC budget analysts were directed to use the phrase ‘CDC bases its recommendations on science in consideration with community standards and wishes.’ Alternatives for the other terms were not yet provided.
A number of health and civic organizations have condemned the changes. The American Academy of Family Physicians took a strong tone, with president Michael Munger, MD, stating, “This action is an obvious attempt to politicize the most fundamental tenets of medicine and research, which will have a chilling effect on the CDC’s ability to rely on science to justify the work it does to protect public health.”
The Center for Plain Language, a non-profit organization that helps government agencies and businesses write clear and understandable documents, has criticized the changes. In a statement released today they said, “Instead of a simple two-word phrase, CDC must now use a 13-word sentence with several multi-syllabic words. That change could cause confusion for anyone with low health literacy skills. And that is a large number of Americans.”
The analyst who spoke to The Post labelled the staff’s reaction to the meeting as ‘incredulous’. The Office of Management and Budget (OMB) receives budget documents from HHS organizations and ‘oversee the president’s vision across the Executive Branch.’ Neither the OMB nor the HHS have yet responded to MPR‘s requests for comment.
Sun LH, Eilperin J. Words banned at multiple HHS agencies include ‘diversity’ and ‘vulnerable’. The Washington Post. 16 December 2017. Accessible at: https://www.washingtonpost.com/national/health-science/words-banned-at-multiple-hhs-agencies-include-diversity-and-vulnerable/2017/12/16/9fa09250-e29d-11e7-8679-a9728984779c_story.html?utm_term=.d3ee63095fca
This article originally appeared on MPR