Week ahead: Congress puts Ebola under the microscope

Lawmakers on Tuesday will hold their first hearing on Ebola, as Congress seeks assurances that health officials are doing all they can to stop the deadly outbreak of the disease.

The Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee and the Appropriations Subcommittee on Health Spending will hold a joint hearing. Among those testifying are National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases director Anthony Fauci, as well as American doctor and Ebola survivor Kent Brantly.

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The hearing will likely focus on the high cost to control the disease and the controversial use of experimental drugs.

The House agreed this week to fund the Obama administration’s $88 million request to combat the outbreak — just a fraction of the $600 million price tag estimated by the United Nations.

The hearing could refocus the nation’s attention on the response to the worst Ebola outbreak in history, which some health experts have called slow and uncoordinated.

President Obama will also travel on Tuesday to Atlanta for a briefing at the CDC on the outbreak. He is expected to unveil new efforts to help contain the deadly disease.

Concern has escalated this week among House Republicans that the administration is understating the threat posed by Ebola.

Six Republicans from the House Energy and Commerce Committee asked the Obama administration on Friday to verify that officials have “adequate plans in place” to protect the U.S. from the deadly Ebola outbreak.

The CDC maintains that Ebola “does not pose a significant risk to the United States.” But Tom Frieden, the director, told congressional staff last week that it is “not possible to be overly concerned” with the epidemic. 

Other health issues will also keep lawmakers busy.

A group of House Democrats will unveil a funding wish list for programs on Monday, prioritizing areas such as biomedical research and the early-childhood education program, Head Start.

The five Democrats are all members of the House Appropriations Subcommittee on Labor, Health, Human Services, Education and Related Agencies. Their spending bill is unlikely to advance, however, as House Republicans have left the bill in committee during three of the last four sessions.

A Senate panel will hold its first hearing Tuesday on a proposed funding boost for the Children’s Health Insurance Program. The bill, introduced by Sen. Jay Rockefeller (D-W.Va.) in June, would guarantee funding for the program through 2019.

The nation’s health leaders will also mix with the corporate elite next week. The CEOs of some of the largest U.S. corporations will be in D.C. on Tuesday to discuss a new report for the Bipartisan Policy Center, highlighting ways businesses have worked to improve the healthcare system.

The event will also feature a big-name guest: Health and Human Services Secretary Sylvia Mathews Burwell.

The leaders of the Coca-Cola Company, Verizon Communications and Aetna are also slated to speak, as well as lobbyist and former Sen. Tom Daschle (D-S.D.). The nine companies that participated in the report provide coverage for about 150 million people nationwide, combined.

Later in the week, senators will turn their attention to a different type of business: sunscreen manufacturers.

The Senate Wednesday will debate a bill that would make it easier for sunscreen companies to use new formulas in their products. The Sunscreen Innovation Act could greenlight new ingredients to protect skin from sun damage, some of which have been in limbo with the Food and Drug Administration for at least a decade.

Two panels in the House Energy and Commerce Committee will also focus on health issues.

Lawmakers on the Subcommittee on Oversight and Investigations will discuss suicide prevention on Thursday, a key element of a stalled mental health reform bill authored by Rep. Tim Murphy (R-Pa.).

The next day, the Subcommittee on Health will discuss antibiotic resistant drugs as part of Congress’s 21st Century Cures initiative.

The ninth annual National Health IT Week will also be underway. Karen DeSalvo, the national coordinator for health information technology, will start the week with a speech on Thursday morning. Later that day, members of Congress — including medical doctor Rep. Phil Gingrey (R-Ga.) and registered nurse Rep. Diane Black (R-Tenn.) — will attend a press conference on the issue.

Hundreds of cancer survivors will also push federal funding for research and prevention efforts.

More than 600 survivors will flock to the Capitol Tuesday, led by a trio of NCAA basketball coaches. That evening, the American Cancer Society’s Action Network will light 14,000 luminaries around the Capitol reflecting pool.

And just in time for flu season, D.C.-area pharmacy students will be giving out free vaccinations throughout the day on Wednesday. They’ll also be advocating for a House bill that would allow pharmacists to officially be considered healthcare providers.

 

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