For Immediate Release: May 1, 2009
TFAH Applauds Sen. Durbin and Rep. Capps for Introducing Legislation to Protect All Americans from Pandemic Flu and Other Health Emergencies
Washington, DC - Trust for America's Health commends Sen. Richard Durbin (D-Ill.) and Rep. Lois Capps (D - CA) for introducing legislation to guarantee emergency treatment for victims affected by a major public health disaster, regardless of their health insurance status or ability to pay. The Public Health Emergency Response Act (PHERA) would ensure every American could seek the medical treatment they need during a potential flu pandemic and in the immediate aftermath of events such as hurricanes or terrorist attacks, without being deterred by prohibitive health care costs. Treating compromised individuals protects victims from unnecessary illness or death, guards the general public from contracting communicable diseases, and saves hospitals and localities from operating in the red as they keep up with a sudden surge in demand.
"During an infectious disease outbreak, no patient should have to worry that they'll be turned away when they need care. The current swine flu emergency reinforces this need," said Jeff Levi, PhD, Executive Director of TFAH. "Due to the recession, uninsured rates are higher than ever, yet public health officials are urging anyone with flu-like symptoms to seek care. It all just doesn't add up and we need a better solution.
"PHERA would ensure that treatment is available for all Americans, including the uninsured, because when it comes to infectious disease, if one infected person can't get treatment, we are all more vulnerable. In addition, hospitals and health providers shouldn't have to worry whether they'll be compensated for providing care to individuals in need in an emergency. Trust for America's Health thanks Sen. Durbin and Rep. Capps for their continuing leadership on this issue, especially at this time of uncertainty in our country."
PHERA would put into place a framework to provide reimbursement for uncompensated care in the event of a major public health emergency. The plan would allow the Secretary of Health and Human Services to trigger a temporary (90 day) emergency health benefit for uninsured and otherwise qualified individuals affected by an outbreak or disaster, in the event that the Secretary declares that a public health emergency exists and opts to activate the benefit.
The legislation would clarify who is eligible for this benefit, limit the amount of time for which the benefit would last, and stipulate what providers would be covered. It would not use Medicare, Medicaid or SCHIP funding. The funding mechanism would be the Public Health Emergency Fund, a no-year fund available to the Secretary. The bill authorizes funding for an education campaign about the availability of the benefit, but further funding would not be necessary until Congress appropriated funds during a declared public health emergency.
The temporary benefit established through this bill would help remove a disincentive for uninsured individuals to promptly seek medical care. Any delay in seeking care could result in lives lost, particularly during an infectious disease outbreak when immediate identification and isolation are necessary to limit the spread of disease, and delay in seeking care could render treatment ineffective. By helping to reduce the burden of uncompensated care, PHERA would help ensure the solvency and continuity of our health care system during a catastrophic emergency.