Lobbyists Push Interests on Bioterrorism Funding Bills
Lobbyists for hospitals, drugmakers and biotechnology companies are "swarming around the Capitol" in an effort to attach a variety of provisions to bioterrorism funding bills, the New York Times reports. The Senate is expected to take up a bill sponsored by Sens. Bill Frist (R-Tenn.) and Edward Kennedy (D-Mass.) before the session ends for the year, and House leaders may bring a bill sponsored by Reps. Billy Tauzin (R-La.) and John Dingell (D-Mich.) as early as today (Pear, New York Times, 12/11). The Frist-Kennedy plan is a $3.2 billion bioterrorism authorization bill (a bill that allocates funding for a program or agency but does not actually release the funds) that would give $1.1 billion to states, including $670 million in grants for bioterrorism preparedness. The bill also would provide $500 million to protect food supplies and crops and $120 million for the CDC to improve its medical response system and laboratories and create a national laboratory network (California Healthline, 12/5). The Tauzin-Dingell bill authorizes $2.9 billion for bioterrorism and is similar to the Senate measure. However, this plan authorizes an additional $100 million for the FDA to hire more personnel to inspect imported food and also gives the agency more authority to "detain suspicious food shipments" (Rovner, CongressDaily, 12/6). To advance their "special-interests provisions," lobbyists have approached members of both parties with the "precise legislative language" they would like to see become law. Below are some examples:
- For-profit hospitals: Under current law, only not-for-profit facilities qualify for federal disaster assistance. The Federation of American Hospitals is pushing to change the law to include "private for-profit medical facilities." Charles Kahn, president of the federation, said for-profit hospitals should be eligible for disaster aid because "they provide critical community services in an emergency." Lobbyists for the for-profit hospital system Tenet Healthcare are also advocating for the funds, saying the current ban is "unfair and anticompetitive," because not-for-profit hospitals use "the very taxpayer dollars that the for-profit institutions pay" to construct new facilities. However, state officials and not-for-profit hospitals say aid is limited and those currently eligible would receive less if eligibility was expanded.
- Biotechnology firms: The biotechnology industry is seeking government protection from lawsuits over injuries caused by its products in the treatment of bioterrorism attack victims. The Times reports that industry lobbyists are advocating that the government should defend the industry in court and pay for any claims for injuries caused by products designed to protect people "against toxins and 'biological agents.'" To justify its argument, the industry is citing the 1957 Price-Anderson Act, which limits liability for nuclear accidents at power plants. Legislation drafted by the industry would require the government to "indemnify and defend" federal contractors who produce bioterrorism treatments. The legislation would also prohibit punitive damages and cap noneconomic losses at $250,000. Such a law would "encourage" the industry to produce vaccines and treatments for bioterrorism, the industry says. "A small company can be wiped out by litigation if it is not indemnified," Stephan Lawton, vice president of the Biotechnology Industry Organization, said.
- Pharmaceutical companies: Drug companies are seeking exemptions from antitrust legislation to allow them to "work together" on drugs and vaccines needed for the "threat of bioterrorism," the Times reports. Also, lobbyists, along with the Bush administration, have said that FDA rules "may interfere" with drug and vaccine production during a public health emergency. Therefore, the industry is asking that the HHS secretary be given the authority in an emergency to waive rules covering quality control standards in the manufacturing process and those on the testing and labeling of drugs, vaccines, blood and blood products. The industry is also opposing a measure that would require drug and medical device makers to label their products with bar codes and universal product numbers. Lobbyists say such a requirement would increase costs and could be used to create "some type of fee schedule."
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.