Preparedness law renewal proceeds with minor tweaks

Sep 22, 2011 (CIDRAP News) – Reauthorization of the Pandemic and All Hazards Preparedness Act (PAHPA), which has cleared a US House committee, now awaits relatively minor tweaking before final House and Senate approval, a representative for the US Health and Humans Services (HHS) said today at a biodefense advisory committee.

The law, passed in 2006, has been credited with making major improvements in the nation's preparedness for pandemics, bioterror attacks, and other public health emergencies. It is set to expire at the end of the year.

In an update on reauthorization progress today before the HHS National Biodefense Science Board (NBSB), Zeno St. Cyr II, MPH, director of legislative coordination with the Office of the Assistant Secretary for Preparedness and Response (ASPR), said the bill has wide support on both sides of the political aisle.

He said that, given the economic and political climate, it's not likely the bill will include major new appropriations or authorities. Funding appears to be level for 5 years of reauthorization. "More so, I envision a bill that has more tweaks," he said.

One change in the reauthorization bill includes $415 million for the Biodefense Medical Countermeasure Development Fund, which was included but not funded when the law was first passed. Others include a streamlined way for the ASPR to fund research from its reserve fund, clarification of duties within the ASPR, and a clause that allows state employees working on federally funded projects to assist with state-based emergency efforts, which addresses a problem that came up during 2009 H1N1 response, St. Cyr said.

The proposed bill also calls for better alignment of HHS and other federal department grants, a move that will ease an administrative burden on states, St. Cyr said.

It incorporates Project Bioshield, set to expire in 2012, reauthorizing it for 5 more years to the tune of $2.8 billion, he said.

In the House, the bill still awaits scoring to assess cost items and offsets that are needed. Then it will go to the full House for consideration.

Over in the Senate, the bill will soon be introduced to the chamber's health committee, possibly at the end of the month or in early October, St. Cyr said.

The Senate's bill is expected to mirror the House bill, but it may include a few differences, such as the inclusion of a Strategic Investor Initiative, which was a key provision of the HHS's countermeasure review in 2010. This initiative is designed to act as a venture capital firm to support companies that are developing medical countermeasures.

Once the bill clears the Senate committee, it will be scored, then move to the full body for a vote.

St. Cyr said he doesn't anticipate any protracted deliberations in the House-Senate conference committee, and he said he expects that the bill will be sent to President Obama for his signature before Congress breaks at the end of the year.

See also:

Jul 28 CIDRAP News Story "Renewal of 2006 preparedness law advances in US House"

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