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HHS Secretary Azar Is Initiating Defense Production Act To Address Novel Coronavirus

March 1, 2020 (EIRNS)—Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar appeared March 1 on Fox, ABC, and CBS Sunday programs, to discuss U.S. government preparations to combat the COVID-19 virus. Many of the answers on different shows were quite similar. On the Fox News Sunday show with host Chris Wallace, Azar stated that there will be “more [COVID-19] cases here in the United States,” and “some forms of community spreading.”

Azar, when asked about whether the Trump Administration plans to use the Defense Production Act of 1950, said that the act “is used fairly commonly for Defense Department procurements in the United States.” Azar said that when one uses the act, “it means our production should go to the front of the line.” The Feb. 28 New York Times, reported that the Trump “Administration activated powers under the act to restore power grids and supply food and water in states and territories hard hit by the 2017 hurricane season.”

Azar stated that he is “right now initiating procurement processes for personal protective equipment, masks, gowns, gloves, etc.” On Feb. 28, Azar said that 300 N95 million respirator masks are needed for the emergency stockpile for health workers. These are necessary, along with production of testing and diagnostic kits on a large scale.

But the U.S. health care system is collapsed with the radical cutting, over decades, of hospital beds, hospital shutdowns, cutting of negative pressure rooms which prevent spread of contagion, etc. Were it possible for the government to use that 1950 act to address that fundamental underlying problem? It turns out that that very issue was debated at hearings in 1953 before the Banking and Currency Committee of the U.S. Senate. Albert Whitehall of the American Hospital Association argued that because of the importance of hospitals, their construction be given the required certificates of necessity so that they could be constructed under the act.

That argument strongly suggests that this method should be considered, including because under the Defense Production Act, the hospital builder would get accelerated amortization credits. One could also, just as appropriately, build new hospitals, and other critical medical structures, under the provisions of the 1946 Hill-Burton Act.

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