WASHINGTON, DC – As the nation continues to respond to the COVID-19 pandemic, steps must be taken to ensure the country has adequate resources to deal with current threats while also taking steps to prepare for future ones – including a potential second wave of COVID-19 infections many public health experts have warned could come in the fall.
The House Energy and Commerce Committee takes very seriously the duty it has to help prepare for public health crises. In addition to holding oversight hearings each year to ensure the U.S. is prepared for flu season, the committee has a long tradition of working in a bipartisan way to ensure our nation is prepared to mobilize during public health emergencies.
The bipartisan Pandemic and All-Hazards Preparedness and Advancing Innovation Act (PAHPAIA), led by Rep. Susan Brooks (R-IN) and Health Subcommittee Chairwoman Anna Eshoo (D-CA) was signed into law last June and reauthorized many of our nation’s public health preparedness and response programs to give federal, state, and local officials the tools and resources they need to respond quickly to a number of potential threats, including the current coronavirus pandemic.
Another important preparedness tool provided through the Public Health Service Act (PHS), and reauthorized in PAHPAIA, is the authority of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) Secretary to declare public health emergencies and to maintain a Strategic National Stockpile (SNS). The SNS is a critical resource to help states and local governments meet increased demands on supplies and medical personnel during public health emergencies.
Originally designed to respond to more localized large-scale needs, during the nationwide COVID-19 pandemic, the SNS has been stretched thin as its reserves have been tapped to supplement state and local supplies.
Each day we learn more about the virus and the steps government can take to adapt and respond, as well as be better prepared for future threats to public health. Here are three bipartisan bills that will help streamline the response to the current pandemic and pave the way for more efficiency in the future:
- The Stockpiling for America’s Future Endeavors (SAFE) Act, introduced by Rep. Brooks and Dr. Kim Schrier (D-WA) would allow the SNS to accept gifts from companies and individuals during this emergency. Under current law, the SNS needs to receive approval from HHS and General Service Administration (GSA) through a cumbersome process that often delays or prevents these critical donations.
- The Stockpile Inventory Modernization Act of 2020, introduced by Rep. Brooks and Chairwoman Eshoo, would allow the SNS to sell existing products when they are no longer needed. This will reduce waste and ensure the SNS has resources to reinvest in supplies needed for future public health emergencies, saving taxpayer dollars and helping keep the SNS’s inventory current.
- The Medical Supplies for Pandemics Act of 2020, introduced by Reps. Debbie Dingell (D-MI) and Jackie Walorski (R-IN), would allow for public-private partnerships to maintain and strengthen the SNS; provide resources to ensure the SNS is well-equipped to respond to public health emergencies; and provide incentives to manufacturers to work with the federal government to stock the SNS.
We will continue to work together to fight COVID-19 while taking steps to build upon the lessons learned through this pandemic. Preparedness for future public health emergencies, whether it be a pandemic or a difficult flu season, is critical to the health and well-being of every American.