Bipartisan legislation sponsored on July 26 by U.S. Sen. Bill Cassidy (R-LA) would authorize a permanent public health emergency fund allowing the United States to more quickly respond to an infectious disease outbreak, a bioterrorist attack or a disaster.
“We may not know when the next infectious disease outbreak will happen, but we can be better prepared,” Sen. Cassidy said. “This bill provides immediate funding and takes lessons learned from COVID-19 to quickly and effectively respond to future public health emergencies.”
Sen. Cassidy introduced the Public Health Emergency Response and Accountability Act, S. 2467, with original cosponsor U.S. Sen. Brian Schatz (D-HI).
“The COVID-19 pandemic has made it clear: we need funding immediately available to respond to public health emergencies,” said Sen. Schatz. “This legislation is critical to saving lives and will help us fight new public health threats in a more efficient and timely way.”
If enacted, S. 2467 would provide automatic funding for the existing Public Health Emergency Fund in section 319 of the Public Health Service Act. The funds would be available for response after a public health emergency regarding an infectious disease, bioterrorist attack or disaster that is declared by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Secretary, according to a bill summary provided by Sen. Cassidy’s office.
Additionally, S. 2467 would ensure that the funding would be spent according to best practices learned from previous responses to public health emergencies, appropriated based on historic needs, and properly accounted for through robust accountability and oversight mechanisms for expended funds, the summary says.
The federal funds also would carry emergency authorities to the agencies that use them, including transfer authority, flexible hiring, exemption from certain administration restrictions, and flexible contracting authorities to enable a timely response to the threat, according to the summary.
The measure has been referred for consideration to the U.S. Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions Committee.