A Senate committee has approved a bipartisan blueprint to overhaul the nation’s public health system, applying the lessons of COVID-19 to future outbreaks through a new chain of command, a stronger medical supply chain, and clearer crisis communications.
But it’s only a first step. If the ambitious vision does eventually pass Congress, lawmakers must still deliver the tens of billions of dollars it will take to translate it into reality and maintain focus after the coronavirus recedes. Right now, Congress is even having trouble meeting a White House request for additional funds to keep COVID-19 at bay the rest of this year.
Sen. Patty Murray, D-Washington, chair of the Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions Committee, stated, “We owe it to everyone who has worked so hard to confront the difficulties of this pandemic to make sure (that) we are never in a situation like this again.”
North Carolina Republican Richard Burr worked on the bill’s outline for almost a year, and it also calls for a national task force to study what went wrong in the coronavirus response and provide recommendations to the president and Congress, similar to the 9/11 Commission. The bill also includes President Joe Biden’s demand for the creation of a new advanced medical research and development organization, codenamed ARPA-H.
Some major public health organizations say they appreciate the Senate bill’s basic direction but want to look into the details before adopting a position. The American Public Health Association’s Dr. Georges Benjamin expressed concern that making the CDC director a Senate-confirmed position would introduce too much politics into the agency’s work.
“Obviously, we support money to repair the public system,” Benjamin said, adding, “but, we have some concerns about the measure as it has evolved.”
Meanwhile, Congress has yet to act on Biden’s request for $22.5 billion in emergency funds to keep the COVID-19 response moving forward.