Frist says bioterrorism bill will increase readiness

By Julie Fann
star staff

Senator Bill Frist (R-Tennessee) was confident Wednesday the bioterrorism bill he wrote in November and that was approved by the conference committee Monday will receive the President's signature soon. The bill, which will provide $1.4 billion for state and local preparedness, was passed in the House yesterday and will move to the U.S. Senate floor for approval today.
   "The risk of another terrorist attack is real and increasing over time. Our vulnerabilities are large, and this bill will reduce them through organizational improvements and prevention preparedness," Frist said. Attached to the bioterrorism bill is a provision for $30 million to go toward making defibrillators more available in public places. Four years ago, Senator Frist initiated a bill that now provides defibrillators on commercial airplanes.
   Frist said the House and Senate disagreed on some details of the bill and work had to be done to 'marry' those differences. The House wanted more provisions for water safety and prevention while the Senate was more concerned with food contamination preparedness. Lawmakers added authorization for the Prescription Drug User Fee Act, which would allow the FDA to partner with the private sector to speed up the approval of any needed drugs in the event of a bioterrorist attack. Frist said the same authorization had not yet been developed for medical devices.
   Dropped from the bioterrorism bill was an anti-trust waiver allowing private industry to better collaborate in developing needed vaccines. In the final bill, Frist hopes one third of all approved funds will be set aside for vaccine development.
   Other legislation on the Frist plate is a bill designed to initiate dialogue between government and the private sector concerning how we look at nutrition. Frist said obesity is the number two killer of Americans, after tobacco. "The surgeon general issued a report saying that obesity is epidemic. This is a bipartisan bill that addresses the fact that we, as a nation, are falling behind. Tennessee has the seventh highest percentage of overweight adults," he said. Frist said there has been a dramatic increase in youth and adolescent obesity the past 30 years.
   Sen. Frist is also collaborating on a bill that will improve patient safety and reduce medical errors. He said 44,000 to 98,000 people die each year due to preventable adverse events in healthcare and hospitals. The bill would enhance safety by making sure pertinent information is reported and by increasing standards system-wide without restraining medicine.