American Academy of Emergency Medicine

Washington Update 10-17-14

House Convenes Hearing on Ebola Outbreak; Administration Appoints Ebola Coordinator

Key Points

  • House hears from Texas hospital and CDC, NIH, FDA, and HHS officials on response to U.S. Ebola cases
  • Committee plans to hold follow-up hearing in November

On October 16, the House Energy and Commerce Committee’s Oversight and Investigations Subcommittee held a hearing entitled “Examining the U.S. Public Health response to the Ebola Outbreak.” Many Members of the Subcommittee returned to Capitol Hill from the District work period to take part in the lengthy hearing, which focused on the recently confirmed cases in the U.S. and the measures the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) is taking to protect Americans.

Several Republican Subcommittee Members called on the Administration to implement a travel ban targeting countries where there is an Ebola outbreak. Witnesses testifying at the hearing generally expressed doubt as to whether a travel ban would be effective in containing the spread of Ebola. Members on both sides of the aisle urged officials to update their protocols as a result of the two healthcare providers that were infected, and asked agencies to find answers on how these individuals were infected while they were wearing personal protective equipment (PPE).

Subcommittee Chairman Tim Murphy (R-PA) stated the Committee will hold an additional hearing on Ebola in November. Murphy stated that the only way the government can dispel the fear and hysteria surrounding Ebola is with clear, honest answers teamed with swift, effective action. He suggested this situation demands leadership from the White House. He said Congress stands ready to meet with the Administration at anytime and anywhere in this cause to help. He reiterated that, for all federal agencies responding to the outbreak: “if resources or authorization is needed to stop Ebola in its tracks, tell Congress.” Murphy pledged he will do everything in his power to work with the agencies to keep the American people safe from the Ebola outbreak in West Africa.

Subcommittee Ranking Member Diana DeGette (D-CO) said ending the West Africa outbreak is a U.S. imperative because it is the best way to keep Ebola from the U.S. She noted concerns over the first U.S. patient, Eric Duncan, being released with a fever after he explained he had been in an Ebola country. She stated the new cases in the U.S. raise serious questions about the training of hospitals and preparedness. She asked why this hospital was unprepared and suggested the CDC needs to be filling these preparedness gaps. DeGette asserted the CDC can prevent isolated cases from becoming broader outbreaks. She stated it would be an “understatement” to say that the response to the U.S.’s first case has been “mismanaged.” She noted appreciation for the steps being taken by CDC and U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) on passenger screening. She suggested that stopping travel is not the answer and would prevent health care workers and additional support from reaching Africa. She noted that the National Institutes of Health (NIH) has stated that without cuts in funding NIH could have had a vaccine for Ebola years ago.

Full Committee Chairman Fred Upton (R-MI) stated it is Congress’ responsibility to ensure that the government is doing whatever it takes to keep the public safe. He noted that he has partnered with DeGette on the 21st Century Cures initiative to help improve the research and speed the approval of life-saving medicines and treatments, and while much attention has been paid to how this effort can help with diseases like cancer and diabetes, these same reforms can also help in the development of treatments for deadly infections like Ebola. He suggested everyone is a partner in this effort to save lives.

Meanwhile, the Administration moved Friday to address one concern that was frequently mentioned at yesterday’s hearing. President Obama announced that Ron Klain will serve as the “Ebola czar,” and will be charged with coordinating the government’s response to the Ebola outbreak. Klain formerly served as chief of staff to two Vice Presidents – Al Gore and Joe Biden.

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