WASHINGTON— US Senators Bill Cassidy, MD (R-LA), Brian Schatz (D-HI), Marco Rubio (R-FL), Richard Durbin (D-IL), and Bill Nelson (D-FL) introduced The Public Health Emergency Response and Accountability Act, S.3280. This legislation will create a permanent fund to allow quick and effective responses to future public health emergencies.
“Future public health emergencies like Zika are inevitable. The pattern is well known, an outbreak of disease occurs, public panic grows, Congress scrambles and appropriates money. This is an inefficient and dangerous way to deal with public health emergencies. As a doctor, with a background in public health, I know there is a better way. If a hurricane hits our nation, FEMA already has a budget which is automatically triggered, it is not held up by partisanship, it allows the resources needed to immediately flow to where they are needed the most,” said Dr. Cassidy. “With Senators Schatz, Rubio and others, we are proposing The Public Health Emergency Response and Accountability Act. This legislation would create a way to provide immediate resources without sacrificing Congressional oversight.”
Ebola. West Nile Virus. Zika. Public health emergencies are inevitable, and the ability to respond to them in a timely fashion is critical. It has become a pattern that every few years, when an outbreak of an infectious disease or other public health emergency occurs, the world community is taken by surprise. As media coverage increases, public panic grows. In response, the US government scrambles to deal with the possible threat, sometimes appropriating billions of dollars in emergency funding, and sometimes—as is the case with Zika—delaying appropriating funds while congressional debate ensues. The pattern has shown that as media coverage fades, public panic recedes. Avian flu, MERS, Ebola, and other diseases fade from public and government consciousness. This pattern is both financially inefficient and dangerous to public health.
A better approach than this inefficient pattern would be to implement a permanent ability for federal response agencies—including the Assistant Secretary for Preparedness and Response (ASPR), the Biomedical Advanced Research and Development Authority (BARDA), the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), the National Institutes of Health (NIH), and other federal departments—to respond proactively to better track and get ahead of infectious diseases and other public health emergencies before they spread or get out of control. Funding would ideally be spent according to best practices learned from previous responses to public health emergencies, appropriated based on historic needs, and with accountability and oversight for expended funds.
Earlier this week Senator Cassidy spoke on the importance of dealing with the current Zika crisis as well as the importance of this legislation. Watch his floor remarks here.
Dr. Cassidy wrote about the importance of getting ahead of public health emergencies in The Hill. Read his piece here.