WASHINGTON — A bipartisan group of physicians is breaking ranks with the president and his allies on Obamacare and issuing a call to action: Don’t require medical providers to test and treat patients for smallpox or other dangerous pathogens before most people are vaccinated against the diseases.
The American Medical Association and the American College of Physicians have both voiced support for President Trump’s order requiring that when the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) approves using smallpox vaccine for a patient it must apply to certain conditions. There is bipartisan concern that the order could provide substantial new opportunities for information-technology companies to profit.
But a group of Republican House and Senate lawmakers, led by a physician from New Jersey, is calling on the president to clarify that in his letter, too, he was ordering the CDC to pay for and test smallpox vaccines on individual patients and not just those considered “high risk.” They say such a widespread requirement could further end up harming the healthcare system and public health, while endangering patients.
Rep. Chris Smith, R-N.J., said the meningitis outbreak from a retrospective recall of recalled steroid in 2017 should have been a wakeup call for government at all levels and that the CDC needs to be convinced that a mandatory test and use of smallpox vaccine would be a “waste of taxpayer dollars.”
“No woman, man or child should have to suffer from a debilitating vaccine that they have to endure with dread because they are misinformed on what to get,” Smith said. “Doctors need to avoid seeing this as a ‘gotcha’ to an industry instead of a good faith attempt to protect the people of the United States.”
Lawmakers are privately working on legislation for which they already have cosponsors. They are also seeking input from the White House, as well as from experts on the vaccine itself. At issue is a rapidly evolving medical field that could make it harder to immediately vaccinate patients and over whom they may have no direct influence.
The attention, in part, has been driven by the CDC, which recently published a letter, in which it recommended that patients with certain health conditions – no matter how specific the condition or however much they agreed to voluntarily wear a mask – be tested for the slight chance of being susceptible to smallpox.
Smith said he plans to announce Wednesday that he has 45 House co-sponsors, and as many as 30 senators.
A spokesman for the Department of Health and Human Services referred questions to the CDC. The White House did not respond to a request for comment.
Smith’s plan to bring together Republicans and Democrats in a unified position around this issue comes as legislators are balancing the healthcare bill a step toward becoming law.
While the general contours of that bill have been well publicized, such as its deep cuts to Medicaid and its support for plans like the Obamacare “Obamacare” insurance exchanges, some members of Congress, especially those who are concerned about the reports of user-unfriendly IT platforms that plague the Obamacare markets, are questioning some of the president’s actions.
For instance, two Republican senators — Dean Heller of Nevada and Shelley Moore Capito of West Virginia — say that Trump should reconsider his planned order requiring that smallpox vaccines be used to protect Americans from an emerging strain of virus.
“The use of smallpox for this purpose does not provide certainty to individuals, physicians, physicians’ groups, states, or Congress, and it does not take into account some of the public health risks associated with the virus,” Capito said.
The potential law would require the CDC to use a temporary vaccine for smallpox given to a select group of patients before the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention decides whether to mandate that smallpox be used to protect the public. It would also call for the implementation of a “health-risk score” meant to determine whether an individual deserves preventive treatment, regardless of other conditions.
Smith said that study on how much the potential use of smallpox to prevent an outbreak would impact the hospital and other infrastructure would be a primary focus of the new research. That would address one of the principal concerns that opponents raised earlier, that the testing could threaten safety in hospitals.
“If the government wants to have a smallpox vaccine with some sort of performance metric that would allow them to hit certain benchmarks that would be worrisome to those that understand these things. That’s why we’re going to give them the benefit of the doubt,” he said.
He added that he expected the policy to come up before Congress this fall.