Healthcare

Bipartisan lawmakers call for overhauling medical supply chains

The U.S. needs to review and overhaul its medical supply chains amid the pandemic, lawmakers on both sides of the aisle said Tuesday.

Speaking at The Hill's "America's Agenda: COVID-19 & A Responsive Rx Supply Chain" event, Rep. Elissa Slotkin (D-Mich.) said the U.S. needs "a soup-to-nuts look and identification of the very specific supply chains with national security importance."

"Once we identify that list, we can look at incentivizing more production here at home," she added.

Slotkin is lead sponsor of the Made in America Medical Supply Chain Initiative, a package of six bills aimed at decreasing dependence on foreign medical supply manufacturing. The initiative includes a $500 million pilot program that would incentivize domestic manufacturers to produce critical items like personal protective equipment.

"My experience in the Pentagon and in the national security world, it kind of blew my mind that while we still really have a preference for making things in America - [like] our military equipment, our body armor, our meals-ready-to-eat. We didn't have the same Buy America requirements on other things like medical supplies and pharmaceuticals," Slotkin said.

Speaking at the same event, Rep. Buddy Carter (R-Ga.) told The Hill's Steve Clemons that the COVID-19 crisis has forced the country to reckon with its dependence on outsourced goods.

"I think we've known for quite a while that we were too dependent on other countries for our pharmaceutical needs, but during this pandemic, we've realized it," he said. "And having realized it means we have to do something about it."

Carter, a member of the House Energy and Commerce Committee, introduced the Manufacturing API, Drugs, and Excipients (MADE) in America Act to similarly keep supply lines in the United States.

"We need to have pharmaceutical independence. That's why with this legislation, what I'm trying to do is to attract those companies to come back to America, to try to incentivize them and to repatriate them back to America through the use of opportunity zones," he said at the event sponsored by the Healthcare Distribution Alliance.

A shortage of medical supplies earlier in the pandemic sparked calls for President Trump to make full use of the Defense Production Act. Trump invoked the 1950 law to boost manufacturing of some medical devices, but critics argue more could have been done to produce more personal protective equipment.

U.S.-China relations have also been strained during the coronavirus pandemic, particularly when Chinese factories shuttered in the spring, disrupting crucial supply chains.

Carter emphasized that independence is a necessity and the U.S. cannot be reliant on countries that have historically acted as adversaries.

"We had threats from China that said, 'Yeah, we're glad to send you this medication. We're going to use what we have to use first, and if there's anything left over, then we'll send it to you,' " he said. "That's not the kind of situation we need to be in. That's not in the best interest of the health care of our citizens, nor is it in the best interest of our national defense."

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