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Public Health News Watch Wednesday: Report for April 5, 2017

APR 05, 2017 | BRIAN P. DUNLEAVY
It is National Public Health Week, believe it or not, and as we wait (in vain?) for our cards to come in the mail, we have taken note of how several communities across the United States are observing the event.
 
With the national theme being, “Healthiest Nation 2030: Creating the Healthiest Nation in One Generation,” the goal of many of the local campaigns is to address key public health challenges impacting their respective regions. Among the goals for officials in Arkansas, for example, is to increase immunization uptake rates among both children (measles, mumps, rubella) and adults (influenza, pneumonia). And, in Florida’s Brevard County, officials have initiated efforts to reduce HIV infection rates in the area, among other programs.
 
Although most programs are designed to “celebrate” the week by highlighting the importance of public health in general, and the need for greater attention on certain key issues specifically, Congress is reportedly mulling two pieces of legislation that, were this the holiday season, would effectively be the equivalent of doling out the old, clichéd lump of coal, at least according to some experts.
 
In a commentary published by Food Safety News, for example, the potential regulatory ramifications of the bill HR 5 are discussed. Known as Regulatory Accountability Act (HR 5), the bill has the support of “small-government” advocates—including the 6 million-member Freedom Works—and the business community behind it, as its stated aim, according to Congress’ web site, is “to require a federal agency to… consider… the legal authority under which a rule may be proposed…, the specific nature and significance of the problem the agency may address with a rule…, whether existing rules have created or contributed to the problem the agency may address with a rule…, any reasonable alternatives for a new rule…, and the potential costs and benefits associated with potential alternative rules, including impacts on low-income populations.”
 
Although much of the wording in the bill, as written, is vague, its characterization of rules developed through government agencies is telling, as it defines and places new restrictions on “major” and “high-impact” rules as well as “negative-impact-on-jobs-and-wages rule[s].” As Scott Faber, author of the commentary and vice president, government affairs for the Environmental Working Group, a non-profit research and education organization, writes, though, activists in the food safety arena believe HR 5 “would require endless studies of potential agency alternatives and subject new rules to layers upon layers of judicial review and congressional approval.” Such regulations, they argue, are important, given that more than 125,000 Americans fall ill and more than 3,000 die annually as a result of exposure to food-borne pathogens such as E. coli, according to data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).
 
“Before any new food safety rule could be adopted, agencies such as the… [FDA] and… Department of Agriculture would first have to consider an endless array of regulatory options,” Faber notes. “Then their proposed rules would have to withstand two layers of review by judges newly charged to second-guess agency experts. Finally, any new rule would have to be approved by both the Senate and the House. In all likelihood, no food safety rule would ever emerge from this obstacle course.”
 
Meanwhile, The New York Times is reporting that, after negotiations between Trump Administration officials and the Freedom Caucus, legislation designed to overhaul the Affordable Care Act is being resuscitated. According to the Times, a provision of this new law would eliminate the requirement for insurance plans to cover those with “pre-existing conditions,” including long-term illnesses such as cancer and HIV/AIDS. Not surprisingly, activists are concerned about the effect this new bill would have on access to care for those who are HIV-positive.
 
With ongoing debates such as these, it is unlikely any of us will be having a “happy” National Public Health Week any time soon.
 
Brian P. Duleavy is a medical writer and editor based in New York. His work has appeared in numerous healthcare-related publications. He is the former editor of Infectious Disease Special Edition.
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