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Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) and Rep. Ro Khanna (D-Calif.) this week unveiled the Emergency Medical Supplies Procurement Act to mobilize the federal government to close the gap in the production of health care equipment.
The lawmakers noted that nearly three months after the first known COVID-19 death in the United States, health care providers across the country are continuing to report supply shortages.
Unfortunately, the Trump administration has failed to utilize the full powers of the federal government, including special authorities like the Defense Production Act (DPA), to respond to the urgent needs of states and communities to save lives, the bill sponsors said.
Massively increasing US testing capacity must be the foundation to any long-term plan to return to in-person educational institutions, businesses, and public settings, they added.
Testing in the United States has plateaued at 100,000 to 200,000 tests per day due to continued shortages of key supplies and materials. Public health experts estimate that the United States must increase testing to 500,000 to one million people per day before considering relaxation of social distancing and stay-at-home orders. Health providers and testing centers are reporting continued shortages of swabs, reagents, RNA extraction kits, and other personal protective and testing equipment, severely limiting their ability to scale-up private and publicly operated testing centers, the lawmakers said.
While Congress recently appropriated $1 billion to the Defense Production Act, that pales in comparison to the amount of supplies needed to protect frontline health care workers and increase testing capacity, they said.
The Sanders-Khanna legislation would provide an additional $75 billion for the Trump administration to purchase or manufacture personal protective equipment (such as surgical masks, N-95 respirator masks, surgical gowns, and face visors); ventilators; testing reagents and compounds; approved vaccines, therapeutics, diagnostics, pharmaceuticals; and any other medical supplies or hospital infrastructure that are necessary.
The legislation would also require the Trump administration to respond to state requests for urgent and critical health care supplies as quickly and aggressively as possible using special authorities such as the DPA, National Emergencies Act, and Stafford Act. Additionally, the Sanders-Khanna legislation would incorporate forceful oversight and accountability provisions to ensure that no member of the Trump family or administration personally benefits from this funding. The bill also requires the submission of a weekly report on the implementation and obligation of resources to states and other localities.
“The United States is the richest country in the world. There is no excuse for our medical professionals and essential workers not to have the masks, gloves, gowns and tests they need to keep safe, treat their patients and stop the spread of this deadly pandemic,” said Sanders. “States and cities should not be forced to bid against each other for scarce and overpriced medical equipment. Congress must explicitly authorize that the Defense Production Act is fully utilized to demand that the private sector manufacture the equipment and products that our medical personnel, patients, and frontline workers desperately need.”
“In order to safely reopen our economy, we must vastly increase our national testing capacity to one million people per day,” said Rep. Ro Khanna. “It’s been three months, but somehow the Trump administration continues to drag its feet in ramping up the production of critical testing and protective equipment that our health care providers are begging for. As a member of the White House Coronavirus Advisory Council, I will continue to push President Trump to take leadership in providing the tools we need to tackle this crisis. Testing is the key to safely restarting our economy and this bill provides the federal government with the resources and directives that will get us where we need to be.”
Read the legislation here.
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