Experts Question Efficacy of HHS Public Health Efforts
Some public health experts allege that HHS's funding system puts a "disproportionate focus" on specific public health threats instead of allocating limited dollars toward "core public health infrastructure to improve response to all potential threats," CQ HealthBeat reports. The millions of dollars spent on treatments and potential vaccines for anthrax in the wake of the anthrax attacks in September 2001 illustrate how HHS responds to media coverage by focusing too much on the "disease du jour," according to CQ HealthBeat.
Lawrence Gostin, director of the Center for Law and the Public's Health at Georgetown University Law Center, said, "Whenever the media highlights a particular threat, the federal government focuses on that threat. It is very difficult, if not impossible, to predict any specific threat, which means that we are likely to be paying enormous sums of public money for threats that may never materialize."
The Trust for America's Health estimates that HHS should spend about $950 million annually on health and bioterrorism grants. Such funding goes toward items including hiring epidemiologists, inspectors and trained laboratory personnel to confirm an outbreak; improving lab and technical systems; investing in local planning and public information specialists; improving vaccine industry infrastructure; improving vaccine distribution ability; and practicing response and containment plans.
However, advocates say the decreasing amount of federal funding for public health and bioterrorism grants -- $919 million in fiscal year 2005, $823 million in FY 2006 and an expected $800 million in FY 2007 -- mean funding levels are "going in the wrong direction," CQ HealthBeat reports.
Michael Greenberger, director of the Center for Health and Homeland Security at the University of Maryland School of Law, said, "Whatever money is being generically spent, it's nowhere near enough to upgrade public health facilities, public health departments, public health laboratories. All of them are in substantial disrepair."
HHS officials "strongly deny" the allegations by Gostin and others, CQ HealthBeat reports.
HHS spokesperson Bill Hall said, "We have put what we feel is a tremendous amount of money into public health infrastructure funding, yet we also need to take steps to protect Americans from potential threats, including those such as anthrax, smallpox and other" agents.
Hall said the proposed FY 2007 budget would allocate an additional $1.3 billion in preparedness grants to states and local governments. He added, "We understand in this kind of environment, intelligent and reasonable people are going to disagree on what and how much gets funded. But we have to make certain decisions and base that on the best information available and the best judgment" (Phillips, CQ HealthBeat, 3/7).