Congress Has A Once-in-a-Generation Opportunity To Modernize Pandemic Preparedness
During the COVID-19 pandemic, the health distribution industry rallied from all parts of the globe, delivering on air, land, and sea. Our members are proud to have served our country in its time of need. Now we want to apply the lessons we have learned to build a future pandemic preparedness strategy that is robust, responsive and resilient.
HIDA identified three key recommendations that can be implemented through a public-private partnership.
- Build a Bigger Cushion. Government and the private sector should work together to build a cushion of medical supplies to meet the immediate needs of providers, while giving manufacturers critical time to surge production.
- Establish a National Sourcing Strategy. The United States must be prepared to ramp up domestic production and improve global sourcing. Federal purchases and multi-year contracts would enhance the long-term commercial viability of domestic manufacturing.
- Ensure Supply Chain Readiness. All participants in the supply chain must understand their roles, expectations, and connection points to access products in an emergency. Government has a role to play in coordinating state, federal, and private stockpiles. We must streamline the process so that states are not competing with each other and with the federal government for available products.
Transportation Delays Are A Healthcare Issue
The medical supply chain has been significantly impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic and current transportation bottlenecks. When surveyed about the trend in transportation delays in the first quarter of 2022, 60 percent of medical distributors have seen no appreciable improvement.
Despite a modest drop in delay times since December, transportation times are still 440% longer than they were before the pandemic. Medical product distributors have reported cumulative port, rail, and trucking delays of 27 to 37 days due to supply chain disruptions. Economists and trade experts expect delays to persist through 2022.
Shortages of medical equipment have become so severe that hospitals have been forced to ask the public to donate used crutches to current patients.
The Problem Isn’t Going Away
Congress has been unable to move key legislation that would create a systemic process to prioritize medical supplies, promote diversified manufacturing of personal protective equipment (PPE), and build on public-private partnerships to prepare for future pandemics.
Partisan gridlock is NOT to blame. Some of these bills have passed the House chamber repeatedly, with large bipartisan margins. If Congress gave this issue their full attention, great progress could be made. Instead, the legislative supply chain has ground to a halt.
Congress Must Act
HIDA urges Congress to consider the following actions to support supply chain resiliency and expedite the flow of medical supplies through the transportation system.
PREVENT Pandemics Act
Senators Patty Murray (D-WA) and Richard Burr (R-NC), the Chairwoman and Ranking Member of the Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions (HELP) Committee, have introduced the Prepare for and Respond to Existing Viruses, Emerging New Threats and Pandemics Act. (S.3799). The PREVENT Pandemics Act is bipartisan legislation focused on strengthening the nation’s public health and medical preparedness and response systems in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic.
The PREVENT Pandemics Act recognizes the vital role of public-private partnerships in managing medical supplies during a pandemic. The legislation’s approach of building in a vendor-managed inventory component to the Strategic National Stockpile (SNS) will better prepare the nation for a future crisis.
Public-Private Partnerships: The bill authorizes the Department of Health and Human Services to contract with medical products distributors to manage a surge capacity of pandemic supplies. The SNS would collaborate with the existing healthcare supply chain to create a forward-deployed personal protective equipment and critical product reserve. This would create a bigger cushion of needed supplies, and allows for critical time to ramp up manufacturing production.
Comprehensive Approach to Sourcing and Stockpiling: The bill incorporates language from the Medical Supplies for Pandemics Act, already passed multiple times by the U.S. House of Representatives.
Medical Supplies for Pandemics Act
The Medical Supplies for Pandemics Act (H.R. 3463 / S.1693) has been introduced in the House by Representatives Debbie Dingell (D-MI) and Jackie Walorski (R-IN) and in the Senate by Senators Michael Bennet (D-CO) and Thom Tillis (R-NC). This bill would strengthen the ability to respond to future pandemics and provide frontline workers the resources they need during public health emergencies.
- Improve medical supply manufacturing
- Diversify sources of medical supplies
- Rebuild the Strategic National Stockpile (SNS)
Click here for HIDA’s position statement on The Medical Supplies for Pandemics Act.
Strengthening America’s Strategic National Stockpile Act
The Strengthening America’s Strategic National Stockpile Act (H.R. 3635 / S.1974) was introduced in the House by Representatives Elissa Slotkin (D-MI) and Richard Hudson (R-NC), and in the Senate by Senators Maggie Hassan (D-NH) and Bill Cassidy (R-LA).
The bill applies the following reforms to the SNS:
- Improve maintenance of and transparency of the stockpile
- Boost manufacturing of critical supplies in America to diversify sources of PPE
- Partner with industry to replenish existing stocks
- Provide more federal resources to states to expand or maintain their own stockpiles
- Bringing transparency to stockpile allocations by requiring a report to Congress
Fast Pass: Critical Cargo Pilot Program for Medical Supplies
A permanent process must be established to ensure any future critical cargo can be expedited.
HIDA also supports Congressional and executive actions that would create a “fast pass” process to expedite medical supplies throughout the nation’s transportation system.
The U.S. Department of Transportation in its Supply Chain Assessment of the Transportation Industrial Base recognized the success of initiatives to “Develop a fast pass system to expedite global transportation of essential medical products.” A permanent process must be established to ensure any future critical cargo can be expedited.
HIDA has drafted legislative language for the creation of a Fast Pass Critical Cargo Pilot Program for Medical Supplies. Such a pilot program would authorize the Secretary of Transportation (in coordination with the Secretary of Health and Human Services and the Secretary of Homeland Security) to partner with one or more marine terminal operators to develop a process to identify critical cargo and expedite movement through the ports. Government officials and port leaders would work with freight operators and the medical products industry to define and prioritize critical medical cargo. Within 180 days of establishing the Pilot Program, the Secretary of Transportation would make recommendations to Congress for a nationwide critical cargo program for all categories of cargo that it is in the national interest to expedite.
A “fast pass” system would include the following elements:
- Identify and Expedite: A “fast pass” system would identify containers of critical medical supplies, prioritize those supplies for container access and sea freight space, and use existing “peel off” capability for priority handling at ports.
- Lift Restrictions on Empty Returns: The timely transport of medical supplies moves in a circle. For full containers to move out of the ports, empty containers must return. HIDA recommends lifting restrictions on the return of empties in order to expedite the flow of containers.
- Ground Empties: The movement of containers depends on the availability of chassis. But too many chassis are idled while they remain attached to empty containers. HIDA recommends grounding these empties, thereby freeing up chassis to transport more containers full of supplies.
- No-Appointment Trucking for Medical Supplies: The appointment-based system for picking up containers has contributed to terminal congestion. Delays at one appointment cause truckers to miss the next appointment. Congestion leads to fewer appointments. HIDA recommends allowing trucks to pick up medical supply containers at ports without an appointment.
- Pop-Up Ports Designated for Medical Supplies: Pop-up locations have eased supply chain bottlenecks for many retailers. HIDA recommends designating space at lots outside the ports for medical supply containers for trucks to pick up.