House Democrats Propose Pandemic Flu Preparedness Plan
Reps. Tammy Baldwin (D-Wis.), Lois Capps (D-Calif.), Nita Lowey (D-N.Y.) and Henry Waxman (D-Calif.) on Wednesday unveiled a $9 billion pandemic flu plan, CQ HealthBeat reports. The plan, with a cost that would exceed the Bush administration's $7.1 billion proposal, would spend $750 million abroad to detect and contain avian flu. That sum includes compensation to poultry farmers who kill chickens in order to prevent the spread of avian flu.
According to CQ HealthBeat, a "major concern about controlling a pandemic abroad is that not enough poultry farmers will kill birds on which their livelihood depends." Under the Democrats' plan, the federal government would cover the full cost of stockpiling antiviral medications, instead of sharing costs with states, as Bush has proposed.
Antiviral manufacturers would receive "narrow" liability protection under the new plan, which also would establish a system to provide "quick" compensation to injured individuals. In addition, manufacturers would be encouraged to produce more vaccine through a "buy-back" program that would purchase unused doses of vaccine.
State and local governments would receive $300 million more than Bush has proposed to fund state and local governments' flu vaccinations programs and create "surge capacity" of vaccine in medical facilities, and an extra $200 million would be spent for state and local government flu planning.
The Democrats' plan did not include funding amounts for the proposed vaccine compensation system.
In related news, Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) on Wednesday in a letter to Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist (R-Tenn.) said a meeting of lawmakers should be held immediately to approve $8 billion in funding for avian flu preparedness. The funding was approved in a Senate amendment earlier this year.
Reid in the letter said the nation was "dangerously unprepared" for a pandemic, adding, "I hope you will agree with me that Congress cannot adjourn this year without providing the resources this country needs to protect Americans from this threat."
According to CQ HealthBeat, Reid in his letter noted that congressional Republicans might approve only half of the requested total amount (Reichard, CQ HealthBeat, 12/14).
HHS Secretary Mike Leavitt on Wednesday held a meeting in Minnesota that "was billed as the first joint summit on pandemic readiness that federal officials plan to hold in each state," the Minneapolis Star Tribune reports. Speaking before Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty (R) and an audience in St. Paul, Leavitt said, "Sometimes you have to think about the unthinkable." Leavitt said essential decisions about quarantines, caregiving and rationing resources would be left to local authorities.
Pawlenty said, "This is going to be one of the most challenging chapters in human history," adding, "While the federal government has a critical role, they are not going to be able to solve this problem for us" (Howatt, Minneapolis Star Tribune, 12/15).
Roll Call on Thursday examined the current government stockpiling of the antiviral Tamiflu, marketed by Roche and Gilead, and looked at how the Bush preparedness plan "could result in a multibillion-dollar windfall for a handful of the nation's largest and most politically well-connected drug companies" (Stanton, Roll Call, 12/15).This is part of the California Healthline Daily Edition, a summary of health policy coverage from major news organizations. Sign up for an email subscription.