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Washington Highlights

House Subcommittee Hears from UNMC and Others Involved in Ebola Response

November 21, 2014—University of Nebraska Medical Center (UNMC) Chancellor Jeff Gold, M.D., Nov. 18 testified before the House Energy and Commerce Subcommittee on Oversight and Investigations during a hearing on the public health response to the Ebola outbreak.

Dr. Gold discussed the challenges and costs of caring for infected patients and preparing for future infectious disease outbreaks. He also highlighted how UNMC and Emory University have helped address a nationwide demand for clinical information and training, both through the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) and direct inquiries from providers across the country.

In responding to questions from the subcommittee members, Dr. Gold explained that UNMC covered most of the construction costs associated with the biocontainment unit (one of only four in the nation) and spends nearly $300,000 annually to ensure its staff are updated and drilled on a regular basis. He estimated that direct costs of caring for each Ebola patient has averaged $30,000 per day, and “is well beyond the normal costs incurred for an intensive care patient.” Gold stated that the first two patients each had an average length of stay of about 18 days.

When asked how UNMC was reimbursed for services provided to Ebola patients, Dr. Gold responded that they had so far been “unsuccessful” in receiving any payments from commercial carriers. He urged Congress “to approve funding and policies supporting full reimbursement…for these unique cases that are not recoverable from insurance policies.” He added that “financial sustainability for UNMC, Emory, and future regional centers…is critical to containing any future outbreak of an infectious disease.” Dr. Gold pointed out that UNMC also had to take beds out of service when the Ebola patients were admitted at an estimated loss to the institution of $148,000 to date.

Dr. Gold urged Congress to utilize part of the president’s supplemental funding request [see Washington Highlights, Nov. 7] to fund a national training program and a national readiness strategy, “preferably managed by the front line existing Biocontainment Units, like UNMC and Emory that have the experience providers are relying on for information.”

Also testifying at the hearing were CDC Director Thomas Frieden, M.D., Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) Assistant Secretary for Preparedness and Response Nicole Lurie, M.D., and Acting Surgeon General/Rear Admiral Boris Lushniak, M.D.

Dr. Frieden reported on the need to support continued national investments in fighting Ebola in Africa through the approval of the administration’s emergency funding request. In an exchange with Rep. Lee Terry (R-Neb.), Dr. Frieden recognized that the costs incurred by UNMC and other places caring for Ebola patients were “quite substantial” and that HHS Secretary Sylvia Burwell was “ready to work” on identifying potential mechanisms for assuring adequate reimbursement.

Dr. Lurie spoke about the domestic response to Ebola and how the emergency supplemental would fund immediate public health responses and long-term preparedness in the United States. Dr. Lurie also addressed several questions regarding the supply of personal protective equipment (PPE). According to Dr. Lurie, a national stockpile is available for distribution within hours to any facility that might receive an infected patient. The CDC has prioritized facilities serving large West African communities and designated international airports and PPE manufacturers have started around-the-clock production.

Additionally, the Samaritan’s Purse Vice President of Programs and Government Relations Ken Isaacs, and the Texas Health Services Commissioner David Lakey, M.D., also testified.

Contact:

Christiane Mitchell
Senior Director Health Care Affairs
Telephone: 202-828-0461
Email: cmitchell@aamc.org

Tannaz Rasouli
Sr. Director, Public Policy & Strategic Outreach
Telephone: 202-828-0525
Email: trasouli@aamc.org

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For More Information

Jason Kleinman
Sr. Legislative Analyst, Govt. Relations
Telephone: 202-903-0806
Email: jkleinman@aamc.org