WASHINGTON – U.S. Senator Bill Cassidy, M.D. (R-LA), ranking member of the Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions (HELP) Committee, delivered remarks during today’s hearing on reauthorizing the Pandemic and All-Hazards Preparedness Act (PAHPA).
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Thank you, Chair Sanders.
Before I begin. I would like to express my condolences to Director Walensky and to the family of the CDC employee murdered yesterday during the attack on the Northside Hospital in Atlanta.
We are discussing an important responsibility for this Committee, the reauthorization of the bipartisan Pandemic and All-Hazards Preparedness Act, or PAHPA.
Many of us will likely focus on the word “pandemic,” which will be a big part of this discussion. But we need to keep in mind the wide array of threats that this bill seeks to address. Not just diseases, but also natural disasters, attacks, and accidents that could put our country at risk.
PAHPA was first enacted in 2006, largely to address the failures of the federal response following Hurricane Katrina.
PAHPA sought to support states, local governments, and hospitals so they would be better prepared for future emergencies. It established the Office of the Assistant Secretary for Preparedness and Response, or the ASPR and the Biomedical Advanced Research and Development Authority, BARDA. It also made improvements to the Strategic National Stockpile so that vaccines, treatments, and tests could be readily available during an emergency.
In both 2013 and 2019, Congress acted in a bipartisan manner to reauthorize this law. This year, Senator Romney and Senator Casey are spearheading this work with the Committee.
While members of this committee don’t always agree, we have always set politics aside and come together on reauthorizing PAHPA. We know PAHPA is critical to protecting the health, safety, and security of the American people.
As we saw during the COVID-19 response, the PAHPA framework is far from perfect. Poor management and maintenance of the Strategic National Stockpile meant that doctors and nurses were forced to use expired PPE. Government hampered the private sector’s ability to quickly launch tests at the onset of the pandemic, and government repeatedly failed to communicate clearly with the public.
During the COVID-19 response, mistakes were made. Tough lessons learned. We’re here today to ensure a future generation is not forced to learn on the fly should another crisis occur. And we need to update the playbook and ensure our framework is flexible to address threats beyond just a pandemic.
We need to look toward the threats of the future, not just those of the past. We also need to be good stewards of our limited taxpayer funds and be a better partner to both states and the private sector, so they are ready and willing to step in and help when the next public health threat comes our way.
To accomplish this, the Committee will need to work in a bipartisan manner to enact meaningful policies that will help make our country safer and better prepared.
We need to work to a consensus.
I am committed to getting this bill done and done on time.