The Obama administration’s request for $6.1 billion to address Ebola in part seeks to lay a better foundation for fighting the current pandemic as well as future ones, federal officials testified before the Senate Appropriations Committee Nov. 12.

Some of the requested funds would be distributed to states to help build local capacity to treat Ebola patients, with a focus on states with a higher probability of having an infected person.

Centers at the University of Nebraska Medical Center, Omaha; Emory University Hospital, Atlanta; and the National Institutes of Health, Bethesda, Md., are ready to handle patients. The next step would be to build capacity near the airports where people traveling from West Africa might arrive – John F. Kennedy International Airport in New York City; Newark (N.J.) Liberty International Airport; Chicago O’Hare International Airport; Dulles (Va.) International Airport; and Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport.

“Beyond that, we have been tracking where the actual incoming people are going,” Sylvia Burwell, Health and Human Services secretary testified, with the next area of focus being the communities where people are going after they arrive in the United States.

“Many states have approached us because of their desire to make sure that they have a facility,” Ms. Burwell added, noting that a goal is to be able to transfer a highly infectious patient to an appropriate treatment facility within 8 hours, no matter where the patient is located.

And while the requested funding would help cover the cost of training as well as emergency equipment to address treatment, nothing is specifically earmarked for helping to cover the cost of treatment.

Sen. Mike Johanns (R-Neb.) said that the funding request includes reimbursing the World Health Organization and others for their current efforts to help with the Ebola response, but no money has been put aside to help hospitals in the United States that have already seen patients.

“It seems that at this point, some assistance in terms of reimbursement would be appropriate because treating an Ebola patient is worlds [apart from] treating Mike Johanns who walks in with a severe case of the flu,” he said, questioning just how much private insurance will pay to cover treating an Ebola patient because costs are “through the roof.”

Ms. Burwell responded that to date, those conversations have remained between private insurance and hospitals and “it has not been an issue that has come to us. But if this is something that folks want to discuss as part of this funding, we are happy to entertain that.”


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