Senate Passes $3.2B Bioterrorism Plan
The Senate yesterday passed a $3.2 billion bioterrorism authorization bill (S 1715) sponsored by Sens. Edward Kennedy (D-Mass.) and Bill Frist (R-Tenn.), CongressDaily/AM reports. The House on Dec. 12 passed its own bioterrorism defense bill (HR 3448). Although the bills are substantially similar, there still are "too many differences" between them and Congress did not have time to reconcile them before adjourning for the year, Frist said (Rovner, CongressDaily/AM, 12/21). The Kennedy-Frist 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. The House bill, sponsored by Reps. W.J. "Billy" Tauzin (R-La.) and John Dingell (D-Mich.), is a $2.7 billion plan that would provide $1 billion to help state and local health agencies improve communications, upgrade laboratories and train employees to address bioterrorism attacks. The bill also would provide $450 million to upgrade CDC facilities and $1 billion to allow HHS to expand the national stockpile of antibiotics and vaccines. Besides the funding differences, the Senate bill includes a provision on agricultural terrorism, while the House bill includes protections for the water supply (CongressDaily/AM, 12/21). House and Senate negotiators will meet when Congress reconvenes in January to begin work on a compromise (AP/St. Louis Post-Dispatch, 12/20). Frist said he hopes a final measure can be finished by February (CongressDaily/AM, 12/21).
Consumers Union has criticized the Senate-passed bill because of a provision that would give drug makers the authority to collaborate with one another and the government on vaccine development, which the group says would "undermine the principles of competition." Gene Kimmelman, co-director of the group's Washington, D.C., office, said that existing antitrust law allows companies to collaborate so long as the government "supervises and monitors those activities." The Senate bill would give drug companies a three-year exemption from that law and the possibility of further extensions. That provision would allow certain firms to have "monopolistic market power well beyond the emergency timeframe of the bill," Consumers Union maintained in a letter sent yesterday to senators. But a spokesperson for Kennedy defended the provision, saying it is "a limited exemption to allow (firms) to consult with the government ... to quickly get new vaccine and drugs" for bioterrorism to market. The House-passed bill does not contain the exemption (Victor, CongressDaily, 12/20).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.