Tuesday, April 24 , 2018, 8:14 am | Fog/Mist 51º


Capps Introduces Bill to Ensure Treatment for Disaster Victims

Rep. Lois Capps, D-Santa Barbara, introduced legislation Tuesday to guarantee emergency treatment for victims affected by a major public health disaster, regardless of their health insurance status or ability to pay. Sen. Dick Durbin, D-Illinois, introduced companion legislation in the Senate.

The Public Health Emergency Response Act would ensure every American could seek the medical treatment they need in the immediate aftermath of events such as hurricanes, terrorist attacks or pandemic flu outbreaks, without being deterred by the fear of prohibitive health care costs.

PHERA would help protect victims from unnecessary illness or death, guard the general public from contracting communicable diseases and protect hospitals and localities from bearing the costs of medical care resulting from disasters.

“We only need to look at the Sept. 11 attacks and Hurricanes Katrina and Rita and to remind ourselves of the need for rapid access to health care services during a public health emergency,” said Capps, vice chairwoman of the Energy and Commerce Committee’s Subcommittee on Health. “In a hurricane or widespread infectious disease outbreak, no one should hesitate to seek emergency care for themselves or their children because of a fear of medical costs. In a time of acute crisis, the risks are too big to let Americans simply fend for themselves and ask hospitals and localities to pick up the tab.”

“We know all too well that a public health emergency, such as a natural disaster, biological attack or infectious disease outbreak, could strike at any time,” said Jeff Levi, executive director of Trust for America’s Health, a leading nonprofit public health advocacy group. “The key is to contain the damage to the public’s health and ensure that victims’ chances of survival are not dependent on their level of health care coverage. Trust for America’s Health applauds Rep. Capps for her leadership on disaster preparedness, and her efforts to ensure that Americans are as safe as possible in the case of a disaster.” 

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 a disaster, in the event that the secretary declares a public health emergency 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 which 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 would authorize 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 reduce the burden of uncompensated care, PHERA would help ensure the solvency and continuity of our health care system during a catastrophic emergency.

Emily Kryder is press secretary for Rep. Lois Capps, D-Santa Barbara.

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