Healthcare Business News

Obama inks hazard preparedness legislation

By Jessica Zigmond
Posted: March 13, 2013 - 5:45 pm ET

President Barack Obama on Wednesday signed legislation that renews a law enacted after Hurricane Katrina to improve the readiness of communities and hospitals to respond to disasters and waves of infectious disease.

Sponsored by Rep. Mike Rogers (R-Mich.), the Pandemic and All-Hazards Preparedness Reauthorization Act of 2013 (PDF) requires HHS' secretary to submit a National Health Security Strategy to certain congressional committees next year. That strategy must include plans for a coordinated and flexible approach to the surge capacity at hospitals and other healthcare facilities, as well as provisions that account for the needs of individuals with disabilities in a public health emergency, according to a summary from analysts at the Library of Congress' Congressional Research Service. The legislation also revises and reauthorizes appropriations between 2014 and 2018 for a program of grants and cooperative agreements to improve surge capacity and improve community- and hospital-preparedness efforts.

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Congress passed the first Pandemic and All-Hazards Preparedness Act in 2006 in response to weaknesses that Hurricane Katrina exposed the year before. In a statement, HHS Assistant Secretary Nicole Lurie said this federal support has provided more coordinated and effective response efforts, seen most recently through the successful evacuation of healthcare facilities after superstorm Sandy last fall and after a tornado hit the town of Joplin, Mo., in 2011.

Lurie also emphasized that the act provides state health departments with more flexibility in how they use staff resources during a disaster. As an example, she noted that staff members paid through HIV grant funding could be deployed for a short time to offer care to the public during a pandemic.

“In a pandemic or in an act of terrorism, our nation will need drugs, vaccines and medical equipment and supplies to protect health and save lives,” Lurie said. “PAHPA authorizes funding through 2018 for buying these medical countermeasures under the Project BioShield Act, and increases the flexibility of BioShield to support advanced research and development of potential medical countermeasures.”

The act also gives greater authority to the Food and Drug Administration, as it allows the FDA—even before an event occurs—to authorize the emergency use of certain products as medical countermeasures. Meanwhile, companies that develop these medical countermeasures—and the medical professionals who administer them—may be protected under an antitrust exemption in the act. “With this provision, these partners can step up in time of need and collaborate to provide our nation with the maximum supply of needed vaccine in the event of a pandemic,” Lurie said.

In December, the Trust for America's Health and the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation issued a report concluding that funding cuts at state and federal agencies have undermined progress made on preparedness since 9/11.

The advocacy group said in a statement after the bill passed last week that the reauthorized preparedness law “will go a long way toward addressing some of these gaps.”

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