The Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions (HELP) Committee marked up and advanced its pandemic preparedness legislation, the Prepare for and Respond to Existing Viruses, Emerging New Threats, and Pandemics Act (PREVENT Pandemics Act, S. 3799) on March 15. The committee’s bipartisan vote of 20-2 allows the measure to proceed to full Senate consideration.
“Time after time we have seen how our response to [the COVID-19] pandemic could have, and should have, been better — and the bipartisan legislation we advanced today will ensure we do respond better in the future. After all our families have been through, we owe it to everyone who has worked so hard to get us through this pandemic to take action so we are never in this situation again,” Chair Patty Murray (D-Wash.) stated following the committee’s approval of the legislation.
Ranking Member Richard Burr (R-N.C.) added, “With this bill, Congress can help ensure America has better tools, better resources, and stronger leadership for the next threat we will inevitably face. I’m proud of the Committee’s diligent and bipartisan work. I look forward to the full Senate’s consideration to ensure our preparedness and response framework remains forward-looking for years to come.”
At the markup, the committee adopted a bipartisan manager’s amendment that replaced and modified the legislative text of the bill as introduced [refer to Washington Highlights, March 11]. Notable provisions of the bill included:
- Establishment of an Office of Pandemic Preparedness and Response Policy within the Executive Office of the President that would serve to “coordinate federal activities to prepare for, and respond to, pandemic and other biological threats.”
- Inclusion of Sens. Murray and Burr’s legislation to authorize the Advanced Research Projects Authority for Health (ARPA-H) [refer to related story].
- Provisions to address foreign influence related to research funded by the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), which were previously passed by the Senate as part of the U.S. Innovation and Competition Act (S. 1260) [refer to Washington Highlights, June 11, 2021].
Committee members debated and voted on 15 amendments to the manager’s amendment during the markup. Eight amendments were adopted, including modifications that would:
- Prohibit HHS-funded research with pathogens of pandemic potential to be conducted in a “country of concern” according to the director of national intelligence, from Sen. Roger Marshall (R-Kan.).
- Provide $177 million for the Health Resources and Services Administration’s Nurse Corps Loan Repayment Program in fiscal year 2023, from Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.).
- Broaden access to accredited continuing medical education for providers in rural and underserved communities, from Sens. Jacky Rosen (D-Nev.) and Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska).
Sen. Chris Murphy (D-Conn.) withdrew an amendment that included the Temporary Reciprocity to Ensure Access to Treatment Act (TREAT Act, H.R. 708, S. 168). Burr shared his commitment to working with Murphy on the bill text in the future. The bill, supported by the AAMC, would allow health care providers who hold a valid license in good standing in at least one state to temporarily practice in all other states for 180 days beyond the end of the current COVID-19 public health emergency [refer to Washington Highlights, March 10, 2021].
The committee voted to table one amendment offered by Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) that would codify the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services’ authority over the regulation of laboratory developed tests (LDTs). Murray and Burr noted that they were working on a separate, bipartisan policy to address LDTs and that Paul’s amendment was more pertinent to the committee’s work on the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) user fee agreement (UFA) reauthorizations that Congress must pass before the end of the current fiscal year. Relatedly, the House Energy and Commerce Committee held a March 17 legislative hearing to consider additional legislation germane to the UFA reauthorization process that could be added to the future FDA package [refer to related story].