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Sunday, August 7th, 2022

Bipartisan legislation unveiled in U.S. House to ramp up nation’s emergency medical stockpile

Credit: HHS Office of the Assistant Secretary for Preparedness and Response

Congressional legislators on Friday introduced two bipartisan bills in the U.S. House of Representatives to bolster the Strategic National Stockpile (SNS), the nation’s repository of antibiotics, vaccines and other critical medical supplies that has been strained by the current coronavirus pandemic.

U.S. Rep. Susan Brooks (R-IN) and U.S. Rep. Anna Eshoo (D-CA), who are co-chairs of the Congressional Biodefense Caucus, introduced the Stockpile Inventory Modernization (SIM) Act of 2020, H.R. 6516, and Brooks teamed up with U.S. Rep. Kim Schrier (D-WA) to propose the Stockpiling for America’s Future Endeavors (SAFE) Act, H.R. 6517.

If enacted, H.R. 6516 would authorize the transfer to any federal department or agency, on a reimbursable basis, any drugs, vaccines and other biological products, medical devices, and other supplies in the SNS, according to the text of the legislation.

“Under current law, the SNS is forced to throw away countless dollars of personal protective equipment and pharmaceuticals per year as those items expire,” Brooks said on Friday in a statement. “This critical piece of legislation will give the SNS the authority to sell such products to other federal agencies before they expire, thus saving the American taxpayers money.”

H.R. 6516 also would expand the ability of the SNS to keep up-to-date products on its shelves by allowing it to work with other federal agencies to meet their mutual needs, she said.

“When another federal agency has a need for a product stockpiled on the SNS shelves, the agency can engage in an agreement with the SNS to purchase that product,” said Brooks. “This will have the dual effect of saving American taxpayers’ money, by allowing other agencies to purchase at a discount, while also allowing the SNS to keep the supplies on its shelves.”

Currently, the SNS buys a product directly from manufacturers and then keeps it on the shelf until expiry, when the product is destroyed, and the SNS must tap into new appropriations to restock.

H.R. 6516 would not obligate the SNS or any agency to engage in these sales; it just provides them the option if both parties think such a sale would be in their mutual best interest.

The current pandemic, said Rep. Eshoo, has highlighted both the importance of the SNS and the need for long-overdue improvements to how it operates, and she said the proposal would “give the SNS additional flexibility and stretch taxpayer dollars further so that we can respond to the current pandemic and be prepared for the next.”

The second bill introduced on Friday by Rep. Brooks with Rep. Schrier was the Stockpiling for America’s Future Endeavors (SAFE) Act, H.R. 6517, which would authorize the acceptance of gifts for the SNS, according to the bill’s text.

“In the beginning of this unprecedented pandemic, as our country faced a critical shortage of personal protective equipment to keep citizens safe from the virus, many Hoosier nonprofits and businesses stepped up to donate this equipment but unfortunately had no direct way to donate these crucial supplies to the national stockpile,” Brooks explained, noting that when the SNS is approached by companies with surplus product or private individuals who want to make cash donations, current law does not allow for such transactions.

Instead, the SNS may only accept such gifts by going through a process that involves both the U.S. Department of Health and Human Service (HHS) and the U.S. General Services Administration.
If enacted, H.R. 6517 would allow the HHS Secretary to directly authorize these donations and place them into the stockpile for disbursement.

“This bipartisan legislation is the commonsense solution to make our Strategic National Stockpile work better by preventing future shortages of personal protective equipment and other critical medical supplies,” said Brooks, and would allow the SNS “to more quickly connect the manufacturers of products to our heroes on the frontlines who need these supplies the most.”

Rep. Schrier also noted that the size of the COVID-19 pandemic spread has shown that the SNS is not adequately stocked with enough equipment to keep up with state and national needs.

“In this interconnected world, it is more likely than not that we will face a pandemic again,” Schrier said. “This commonsense legislation will eliminate red tape and allow for donations to the SNS in addition to what Congress allocates, so our country is better prepared to act when the next emergency happens.”

Currently, FEMA is accepting gifts on behalf of the SNS, but it’s an arrangement slated to last only for the duration of the national emergency, according to Brooks’ office, which said that once the emergency ends, the United States will revert to the system where SNS cannot accept any gifts.