“Cracks will show up and forces will penetrate and overwhelm the line of attack that protects public health,” he predicted.
The warnings were ignored.
Instead of appropriately shaping the recommended $ 820 million for public health grants and $ 470 million for hospital preparation covered by the 2019 pandemic law, Congress only agreed, about $ 675 million or $ 275 million to spend. Legislators, public health experts and Capitol Hill staff told POLITICO that this was well in line with Congress’s pattern of abolishing domestic spending in good times and only easing wallets when a crisis was already under way.
“We are the richest country in the world and in many ways we were caught with our pants down,” said Rep. Robin Kelly (D-IL), who sits on the House’s subcommittee that drafted the bill. “If we had had more money, we would have been better prepared today. We would have gotten up to speed faster. ”
The renewed approval of the law and the subsequent allocation of funds have been several key moments in recent years when experts have warned of the likelihood something like a current pandemic and leaders have not done enough to prepare.
“We tend to,” said Dr. Georges Benjamin, the executive director of the American Public Health Association. “If something happens, we throw a lot of money on it, but then we go away. If we did that with the military, we would be in terrible shape. But somehow we’re doing well with public health. ”
Legislators and outside experts say the bill for major public health programs that the country is now dependent on has been renewed and improved as the pandemic spread.
Among other things, the legislation – officially known as the Pandemic and All-Hazards Preparedness and Advancing Innovation Act – encouraged the FDA to work with companies to develop emergency approvals for new vaccines. It also clarified when and how the public health emergency fund could be accessed, and pilot programs were set up to help states and hospital systems prepare regional cooperation plans. Senior Senate author Richard Burr (R-N.C.) And chairman of the HELP committee Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.) Welcomed the bill an op-ed this February as the backbone of the country’s ability to survive the coronavirus pandemic.
“The congressional public health preparation and response framework that the Trump administration is actively implementing today helps protect Americans,” wrote the senators. “The work of Congress and administration over the past few weeks has allowed US health agencies to move quickly and decisively.”
An HHS spokesman also praised the bill and said in a statement to POLITICO that it “strengthens public health and health readiness, strengthens response and recovery programs, and increases transparency.”
Public health experts agree that the underlying policy was good, but say Congress’s failure to adequately fund these programs exacerbates the current crisis.
“While we are light years ahead of 2001 in terms of task force, laboratory capacity and other precautionary measures, the means that have made a difference in how fast health offices can go up have been steadily cut,” said Dara Lieberman of the Trust for America’s Health, one of the congress groups Invited earlier this year to weigh up the reaction to coronavirus.
Since some of the law’s key health programs were drawn up in the early 2000s, their funds have been cut significantly in recent years – both among democratic and republican governments and at several congresses.