Ex-Bush health chief: Budget cuts not to blame for Ebola response

Budget cuts aren’t to blame for the administration’s poor response to Ebola, a former Health and Human Services (HHS) secretary under President George W. Bush said Thursday.

“I don’t think you can blame budget cuts on this problem,” said Tommy Thompson, who served as Bush’s HHS secretary from 2001-2006, said on CNN’s “New Day.”

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“I think it’s the lack of communication, lack of coordination, lack of information,” he said in response to a question about whether the automatic spending cuts known as sequestration were to blame.

When he took over at the department, Thompson said the public health infrastructure was at an all-time low — around $300 million. When he left, Thompson said the National Institutes of Health’s budget for dealing with infectious disease issues had increased to over $4 billion.

Asked why the U.S. hasn’t developed an Ebola vaccine, Thompson said “Like anything else, it takes time, and it takes money.”

“They’re working on it,” he said. “There are a lot of infectious diseases, and I don’t think Ebola received as much scrutiny as other diseases, and maybe it’s got to have to be one of those diseases like AIDS that we put more emphasis on and more dollars on in the future.”

In an interview with The Huffington Post, National Institutes of Health Director Dr. Francis Collins blamed budget cuts on the lack of a vaccine.

A number of Democrats have also blamed Republicans for budget cuts and pointed at the sequester as the primary culprit.  

Under his leadership, Thompson said HHS communicated daily with the Centers for Disease Control, NIH and the World Health Organization during the SARS and anthrax scares. The Obama administration, he said, should have sent CDC officials down to the Dallas hospital as soon as the first patient was diagnosed with Ebola. 

“There should have been a team from CDC sent down to Presbyterian hospital to talk to the nurses and set up protocols within that hospital and I think they would have been able to avoid a lot of these mistakes.”