NHC Responds to Chairman Alexander’s White Paper on Pandemic Preparedness


By Maddie Mason, Senior Associate, Policy

The National Health Council (NHC) submitted comments on Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions (HELP) Committee Chairman Lamar Alexander’s (R-TN) White Paper on “Preparing for the Next Pandemic.” The White Paper is a response to the COVID-19 pandemic that has brought widespread health and economic devastation and is a first step in making sure that the country has a plan in place in case of another public health emergency (PHE) to mitigate some of the health and economic consequences.

The White Paper primarily focuses on improving the public health infrastructure, improving the development of treatment and vaccines, and coordinating federal response. The NHC agrees that all these areas are the most critical in preparing for the next PHE, and pointed out that the current PHE has highlighted the fragmentation and inefficiencies in our health care system that have made it increasingly difficult for those with chronic diseases and disabilities to receive health care.

In our letter, the NHC urges Congress to consider the following recommendations to prevent and manage the next pandemic:

Increase Stakeholder Outreach During and After PHEs

It is vital that the federal government enhance its engagement with stakeholders before and after a PHE. Meaningful engagement with people with chronic conditions and their caregivers will improve outcomes that patients care most about during a PHE.

Accelerate Research and Development into Tests, Treatments, and Vaccines

The NHC has been pleased to see the increase in both flexibilities at the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and the increased level of public-private partnerships that have emerged during the COVID-19 emergency, as they appear to increase the speed of research and development for COVID-19 testing, treatment, and vaccines. We urge Congress to work with the FDA to analyze the impacts of these factors and consider additional ways to support this progress in future pandemic responses.

Include Provisions to Ensure Coverage During Future PHEs

The COVID-19 pandemic has highlighted the importance of meaningful, affordable health insurance coverage. It is critical to make sure that the greatest number of people have health care coverage during a PHE. The NHC recommends the opening of special enrollment periods, meaningful federal support to maintain existing employer sponsored coverage, and increasing the Federal Medical Assistance Percentage (FMAP) during a PHE be studied and considered as automatic flexibilities triggered by a future PHE.

Continuity of Care Flexibilities Should be Automatically Triggered During Future PHEs

The current PHE has highlighted the need to enact flexibilities for individuals to continue to receive access to health care they need during a pandemic. Congress and the Administration have taken swift action to grant flexibilities, yet even the slightest delay can lead to severe negative consequences. We encourage Congress to work with the Centers of Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) to determine the flexibilities that need to be automatically triggered by a future PHE.

It is also vital to recognize how a PHE impacts different populations; therefore, we recommend that demographic data, including race, gender, and disability status, is collected, reported, and analyzed to determine the impact of a PHE on all populations.

Permanently Continuing Certain Flexibilities to Ensure Continuity of Care During a Pandemic

The current pandemic has brought to light access hurdles that patients, even those who are insured, face when seeking medical care, and these challenges will persist beyond the COVID-19 pandemic. These access hurdles lead to and perpetuate health care disparities. We recommend that Congress work with federal agencies to identify the flexibilities put into place during the current crisis that have ongoing value in preparing for future PHEs and ongoing health care needs. Flexibilities that meet the needs of patients, are effective, and proven cost-efficient, should be made permanent through either legislation or regulation.

Please read our letter to learn more about the NHC’s response to Chairman’s Alexander’s White Paper on pandemic preparedness.