HELP Committee Considers PREVENT Pandemics Act

Murkowski Wins Amendments to Support Alaska’s Economy and Tourism Industry, Tribal Communities, and Rural Healthcare and Workforce

During a Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions (HELP) Committee executive session to consider the S.3799 Prepare for and Respond to Existing Viruses, Emerging New Threats, and Pandemics Act (PREVENT Pandemics Act), U.S. Senator Lisa Murkowski (R-AK) filed amendments to the bill which addresses the nation’s response to pandemics and includes reforms to improve accountability and transparency at the Centers of Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Murkowski’s provisions prioritize improving our health workforce and ensuring the administration takes into account economic impacts related to restrictions and mandates. Murkowski also secured changes to the bill requiring increased communication and consultation with noncontiguous states, and with impacted industries by establishing a new designated Industry Liaison role within the White House for future public health emergencies.

The PREVENT Pandemics Act strengthens the nation’s public health and medical preparedness and response systems, and is the result of bipartisan efforts members of the HELP Committee kicked off nearly a year ago to examine what has worked, and what has not, during the nation’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic. The bill improves strategy and coordination among our public health preparedness agencies; bolsters our health workforce; strengthens supply chain and government stockpiles of medical products including masks, drugs, vaccines, and tests; improves our capabilities to detect and monitor emerging infectious disease and other threats; and more. 

Economic Analysis: Murkowski’s amendment would require the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) to, no later than 30 days after any regulation or order is issued in response to a public health emergency, publish a description of the anticipated economic impacts of the regulation or order on significantly impacted industries. Murkowski’s amendment was adopted unanimously by voice vote.

“The pandemic had devastating effects on the travel and visitor industries, which are key to my state's economy and people’s livelihoods. Between summer 2019 and summer 2020, Alaska experienced a 33 percent decrease in revenue—the largest in the country. This amendment will ask the HHS to examine the economic impacts of their restrictions, enabling businesses to better prepare in the future,” said Senator Lisa Murkowski.  

[Click here to watch Senator Murkowski introduce her Economic Analysis Amendment]

Tribal Set Aside: Murkowski’s amendment with Senator Tina Smith (D-MN) establishes a 5 percent set aside for Tribes, Tribal organizations, urban Indian organizations, and Tribal health departments within the new social determinants of health grant program at HHS. American Indian and Alaska Native people experience worse health outcomes when compared with other Americans, driven by the social, environmental, and economic influences of health.  In this new program intended to address upstream factors that contribute to negative health outcomes, it is critical to include dedicated funding for tribes and tribal health organizations. This amendment was adopted unanimously by voice vote.

“COVID-19 only exacerbated the existing health disparities in Tribal communities, which were among the hardest hit by the pandemic. Any health or public health legislation Congress passes will have an impact on Indian health, so it is important for new grant programs to include funding for tribes. It's vital that Native Americans have faith that their health systems will keep them safe and healthy,” said Senator Murkowski.

[Click here to watch video of Senator Murkowski speak to the Tribal Set Aside Amendment] 

Improving Access to Health Care in Rural and Underserved Areas: Murkowski worked with Senator Jacky Rosen (D-NV) on an amendment to expand access to specialist care and continuing medical education for primary care providers in rural and underserved areas through health centers and rural health clinics. The committee unanimously adopted this amendment by voice vote.

“Primary care providers in rural communities are faced with unique demands, and they take on the formidable task of providing care for a wide range of people and conditions. In Alaska, this can mean taking a bush plane to a community hundreds of miles away, and providing care to people who haven’t had care in months—an issue that became even worse during the pandemic. This amendment will increase the number of healthcare workers across the state, building up our workforce and provider capacity in the areas that need it the most.”

Additional Provisions secured by Senator Murkowski in the PREVENT Pandemics Act include the BIO Preparedness Workforce Act with Senators Baldwin, Collins, and Rosen; Building a Sustainable Workforce for Healthy Communities Act with Senators Casey, Tillis and Smith; Strengthening the Public Health Workforce Act with Senators Smith, Collins, and Booker; Emergency Use Transparency Act with Senator Hassan; and more. 


Related Issues: Health