HHS, Homeland Security Chiefs Testify About Hospital Preparedness
HHS Secretary Mike Leavitt and Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff said shortcomings in U.S. hospitals' disaster preparedness plans would not be fixed by proposed Medicaid changes that would block pending cuts, the Washington Post reports.
The Bush administration officials' testimony took place on Wednesday during the second day of a House Oversight and Government Reform Committee hearing on hospital preparedness (Hsu, Washington Post, 5/8).
During the first day of the hearing, committee Democrats on Monday released a report that found emergency departments in seven U.S. cities would be "overwhelmed" if a terrorist attack occurred and that their ability to handle such an event would be further compromised if the proposed Medicaid changes are implemented (California Healthline, 5/6).
Congressional budget analysts estimated the regulations would lower federal spending by $17.8 billion over five years, and state officials said the changes would have an even greater impact.
Committee Chair Henry Waxman (D-Calif.) said HHS and DHS were "irresponsible" for not determining what impact the regulations would have on preparedness (Washington Post, 5/8).
On Wednesday, Chertoff said that hospital surge capacity is not related to Medicaid funding and that emergency relief typically is brought in to assist hospitals in such situations (CongressDaily, 5/8).
Leavitt said, "I believe there are deficiencies in our surge capacity," adding, "I just don't believe Medicaid funds should be used to deal with that deficiency."
Chertoff also said that there are "undoubtedly gaps that need to be plugged, some of which are planning gaps and some of which are capability gaps" (Carey, CQ HealthBeat, 5/7).
Leavitt said funding could go directly to purchasing stockpiles of hospital beds, ventilator units or medicines (Washington Post, 5/8). "Medicaid's mission is not emergency preparedness," Leavitt said, adding, "It is to provide health care to people, not institutions" (CQ HealthBeat, 5/7).
Leavitt said HHS will report the results of a nationwide survey on hospitals' surge plans and capabilities by the end of this year. In addition, he said a survey is being conducted on hospitals' ability to electronically track hospital beds and report how many are available within an hour (Washington Post, 5/8).