The House Appropriations Subcommittee on Labor, Health and Human Services, Education, and Related Agencies (LHHS) April 15 held a hearing to discuss the $5.4 billion in Ebola-related emergency supplemental funding made available in the Consolidated and Further Continuing Appropriations Act, 2015 (PL 113-235).
Among the witnesses was Assistant Secretary for Preparedness and Response (ASPR) Nicole Lurie, M.D., who discussed the primary activities underway that are supported by the emergency appropriation. In her testimony Dr. Lurie announced that a “mechanism” was in place to accept claims from treatment hospitals that had not been reimbursed for the care provided to Ebola patients. Dr. Lurie stated that the hospitals “should not have to bear financial burden because they stepped up to treat patients.”
Dr. Lurie also discussed efforts by the Hospital Preparedness Program to create a nationwide, regional treatment network of up to ten treatment centers for Ebola and other highly infectious diseases. The centers would be able to accept a patient from within their region or from overseas within a few hours of diagnosis.
Dr. Lurie expects to release $194.5 million in funding awards by May 20 to support the regional network and offset the preparedness costs incurred by facilities and coalitions since July 2014. Several committee members stated that the funding was insufficient and did not cover the costs incurred by designated Ebola centers in their districts.
Pointing to Penn State Milton S. Hershey Medical Center, Rep. Charlie Dent (R-Pa.) reported that the funding was “not in line with the cost that they have incurred in preparing for Ebola patients.” Ranking Committee Member Nita Lowey (D-N.Y.) similarly commented that the funding covered “only a small fraction of the costs that providers have incurred.” She added that she was “very concerned that we’re sending the wrong message to hospitals that stepped forward to be designated centers for Ebola…by imposing a financial burden.” Dr. Lurie responded, saying that the current level of funding “is pretty sufficient to cover the costs.”
Also testifying at the hearing were Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) director Thomas Frieden, M.D., National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID) director Anthony Fauci, M.D., and Biomedical Advanced Research Development Authority (BARDA) director Robin Robinson, Ph.D. Their comments focused on the Ebola-related basic and clinical research underway. Pointing to the NIH’s leadership role in supporting efforts to develop vaccines and other treatments for highly infectious diseases including Ebola, Ranking Subcommittee Member Rosa DeLauro (D-Conn.) warned that when “we cut funding for these activities, we jeopardize our nation’s security no less than when we cut funding for the military.”
Dr. Fauci discussed how the NIH has been working on basic and clinical research on “Category A” agents such as anthrax, smallpox, and hemorrhagic viruses such as Ebola. He added that “fundamental basic research on the microbe” and “providing resources for academia as well as for industry” is how the NIH is supporting the development of “countermeasures in the form of diagnostics, therapeutics, and vaccines.”