Congress splits town, ducks tough calls to combat Zika virus

United_States_Capitol_west_front_edit2Taxpayers fork over $174,000 in annual pay for  each of the 435 members of the U.S. House and the 100 Senators. The House Speaker gets $223,500, while the Senate President and the House and Senate majority and minority leaders get $193,400. And that doesn’t count the benefits and perks and office staffs. But now they’ve split town for a seven-week recess, without protecting the nation from a potential public health crisis involving Zika, the mosquito-borne disease that is presumed to cause major defects in the unborn of mothers exposed to the virus.

The Zika legislation foundered when partisans could not resolve whether the disease-fighting dollars might support reproductive health measures (birth control), particularly funding for Planned Parenthood. Democrats saw this as a necessary part of the battle. Republicans, who have opposed federal funding of this aspect of health care, disagreed.

Even as this bickering stalemated the zika bill:

  • Health officials expressed new worry about the virus after finding a reported case in New York in which a woman transmitted the virus to a man through sex. The disease, which in many victims is mild and results in fever, aches and pains, usually is transmitted via mosquitoes; experts had tracked cases when it went from men to women during sex─but not, sexually, the other way.
  • U.S. officials said they had confirmed in early July the first Zika-related fatality in the mainland; they had recorded a Zika death earlier in Puerto Rico. The mainland death occurred in Utah, and involved an elderly patients with health issues who apparently contracted the disease while traveling.
  • The Post notes that: “ As of July 7, no cases of locally transmitted, mosquito-borne Zika have been reported in the continental United States. As of July 6, a total of 1,132 cases of travel-associated Zika have been reported in the 50 states and District of Columbia.”

Public health officials say they will do their best to keep up the Zika fight without congressional funding, including by moving around existing budgets to battle other diseases. But the delay, which also may become permanent, harms critical efforts such as mosquito eradication, improved testing for the virus, and development of an inoculation against the disease.

About that opioid drug abuse bill …

Before leaving on recess, Congress made a big show of approving bipartisan legislation targeting another major national health priority─a campaign to curb the abuse, all too often fatal, of prescription opioid pain killers. Senators and representatives, many of them returning to districts ravaged by overdoses and other debilitating aspects of this drug abuse epidemic, will talk up this measure.

But as Fortune notes, it just mostly provides a big wish list:

The law seeks to enhance community resources to tackle an ongoing opioid overdose scourge which claimed the lives of more than 28,000 Americans in 2014. Its provisions include: expanding the availability of the opioid antidote naloxone to police and first-responders; encouraging states to seek alternatives to jail time for addicts; allowing more medical professionals to administer medications that can fight addiction; and expanding prescription drug monitoring programs to identify patients at risk of addiction, among other measures.

Here’s the giant gap with this ostensible addiction-fighting law: There’s insufficient or no money with it. Again, partisans split, bitterly, over the bill. They all held their noses, and gave it a big, flashy vote. But Democrats emphasized that the measure fell far short of the $1.1 billion President Obama requested; they said the measure, at present, is empty of financial support.

The Republicans have promised that they will deal with this shortfall, later. They say the funding will be provided, piece meal, in various appropriations measures that will be brought up.

At least seven weeks from now.  When the nation will be full bore in the fall presidential campaign.

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