Monday, October 24, 2005

A New Face In Hell

Fiscal restraint. Smaller government. Transparency and accountability. The GOP is turning its back on all these things once again, in order to create an expensive new government bureaucracy that will be exempt from oversight, cost accounting, and the Freedom of Information Act.

POGO has the details:

S. 1873, the Biodefense and Pandemic Vaccine and Drug Development Act of 2005, exempts industry from liability and a new agency within HHS, the Biomedical Advanced Research and Development Agency (BARDA) from the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA), the Federal Advisory Committee Act (FACA) and parts of the Federal Acquisition Regulations (FAR).
BARDA would have oversight of Project BioShield, and its copious funds. As regards accounting, the text of the Act specifies that:
[T]he requirement for the submission of certified cost and pricing information...shall not apply to any contract, grant, cooperative agreement, or other transaction entered into under the Project BioShield Act of 2004.
Fair enough. Who but a terrorist-appeaser of the worst sort would demand cost accounting for biodefense projects?

Needless to say, the centerpiece of the Act comprises the "incentives" it provides to the pharmaceutical industry. The most obvious of these is all-but-total protection from liability of any kind, ever. Another is exclusivity:
[T]he bill would allow Health and Human Services to sign exclusive sales contracts with particular manufacturers for a particular product. It would forbid government purchases of generic versions of such new drugs or vaccines as well as public sales of the products for use as countermeasures.
Behold the miracle of the Invisible Hand! All it takes is an offer of exemption from antitrust laws - along with a few other anti-transparency, anti-consumer, anti-democratic provisions - and we've got a readymade free-market solution to the problem of pandemic disease.

Or maybe we don't. Senator Tom Harkin has complained that the Act doesn't sufficiently address the threat of an H5N1 pandemic:
"We need emergency funding right now, probably to the tune of several billion dollars to begin to get grants out there right build the vaccine manufacturing facilities for flu vaccines....We need to get these facilities built in the next six or seven months."
The Act's author, Richard Burr (R-NC), is unimpressed with this line of reasoning:
Burr said including such provisions in the bill would have greatly delayed the measure. He said there is "ample time" to prepare such legislation and that the committee would soon begin work on it for passage next year.
Hear, hear! God forbid that a pressing need for specific anti-pandemic measures should delay the passage of anti-pandemic legislation.

The Boston Phoenix has a good article on the pursuit of "free market" solutions to previous pandemics, and their less than satisfactory results. The article also discusses a report that found some interesting lacunae in Massachussett's pandemic plan:
There is no plan for obtaining the syringes, containers, and other supplies needed by vaccination clinics. "It is unclear who is responsible" for this, the report says.

The state has no automated mortality-information reporting. Under the current system, a coded, searchable file of influenza deaths would not be available until at least three to four months after deaths occur.

There is no plan for providing security for the vaccines during their transportation from the central facility in Jamaica Plain to other parts of the state. Many large parts of the state have little or no available excess storage space for those vaccines.

Many sites that would store the vaccines have little or no security. For example, Western Massachusetts's vaccine would be stored at a UMass Amherst facility, where the only protection is the school's campus security. Central Massachusetts's supply office in West Boylston currently has no alarms or security personnel.

The state has no legal authority to enforce mandatory vaccination.
It's comforting to imagine that we have "ample time" to solve these problems, which I suspect bedevil other states than Massachusetts. How much of that time will be squandered by ideologically motivated attacks on consumer protection and government accountability remains to be seen.

UPDATE: Cervantes has more on the Massachusetts "plan." It's a must-read piece, as per usual.

1 comment:

Cervantes said...

Or, to be more precise, there is no plan whatsoever. The "plan" consists of a checklist of essentially impossible, unfunded preparations that are supposed to be made by cities and towns. There is no evidence that the municipalities have even the remotest prospect of actually fulfilling the unfunded mandates placed upon them under this "plan." Here's some info to get us started on understanding this massive, mind boggling fraud upon the people.