House-passed stimulus bill includes pandemic funding

Jan 29, 2009 (CIDRAP News) – Yesterday the US House of Representatives passed an $819 billion economic stimulus bill that included funding for pandemic influenza and bioterrorism countermeasures, and now the Senate will debate its version of the measure, which also includes spending on some of the same items.

President Barack Obama and several Democratic legislators have hailed the public health spending provisions as a way to create jobs and boost the productivity of the American workforce. However, some lawmakers oppose spending provisions, particularly those aimed at government departments.

The House bill includes $900 million for biomedical advanced research and development, pandemic flu, and cyber security to help the nation better prevent or respond to a natural or man-made biological threat, according to a Jan 15 statement from Trust for America's Health (TFAH), a nonprofit health advocacy group in Washington, DC.

The House plan also includes $3 billion for disease prevention, including funding for state and local health departments and immunization programs, and $20 billion for health information technology.

Jeff Levi, PhD, executive director of TFAH, said in the statement, "This is an unprecedented one-time investment in public health." In 2008, a TFAH expert panel reported that the country faces annual $20 billion shortfalls in critical public health program funding across state, local, and federal levels.

The National Association of County and City Health Officials (NACCHO) said in a Jan 15 statement that federal support for effective public health programs has eroded steadily over several years. "This (House) bill would reverse that course and set the stage for an emphasis on wellness in forthcoming discussions of reform of the nation's health system," the group said.

On Jan 27 TFAH released a statement applauding the Senate Appropriations Committee for including $16 billion for public health in its version of the stimulus bill. "This funding is desperately needed to revitalize and modernize the country's ailing public health system, and we'll be putting more Americans to work in programs that will directly improve the health of communities where they live," Levi said.

The Senate bill includes $870 million to complete funding for the nation's pandemic influenza plan. It also includes $5.8 billion for prevention and wellness efforts, including $600 million to boost the healthcare, and $5 billion toward the modernization of health information technology.

TFAH said the Senate's stimulus bill includes funding to modernize the nation's capacity to respond to a pandemic outbreak, along with equipment and medications to detect, contain, and treat pandemic influenza.

Yesterday the House passed its stimulus measure by a 244-to-188 margin, with Republicans unanimously opposing the bill. It's unclear how the bill will fare in the Senate, where Democrats have a slimmer majority.

Senate debate on the bill could begin as early as Feb 2, the Associated Press reported today.

Once the Senate passes its stimulus bill, a conference committee made up of members from both Congressional chambers will meet to resolve differences between the House and Senate bills.

During a US Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) webcast yesterday on the status of the nation's pandemic preparations, Robin Robinson, director of the HHS Biomedical Advanced Research and Development Authority (BARDA), addressed what would happen if legislators strip money for pandemic measures out of the stimulus package.

"We need to continue to develop antiviral drugs, and some of the money in that request was earmarked for that," he said. "Second, we need to finish buying adjuvants [immune-boosting chemicals] for our [vaccine] stockpile, and some of the money was for that. Those would be the two primary effects if we didn't get the money."

In a Jan 8 pandemic plan progress report, former HHS Secretary Mike Leavitt said the HHS planned on adding prepandemic vaccine doses to the national stockpile and has plans to buy 5.2 million doses of a GlaxoSmithKline adjuvant that it will pair with the government's existing supply of GlaxoSmithKline vaccine.

See also:

Jan 27 TFAH press release

Jan 15 TFAH press release

Jan 15 NACCHO press release

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