Wednesday, September 9, 2020
Assuring Essential Medical Supplies During a Pandemic: Using Federal Law to Measure Need, Stimulate Production, and Coordinate Distribution
Evan D. Anderson (University of Pennsylvania), Scott Burris (Temple University), Assuring Essential Medical Supplies During a Pandemic: Using Federal Law to Measure Need, Stimulate Production, and Coordinate Distribution, Assessing Legal Responses to COVID-19. Boston: Public Health Law Watch (2020):
The global COVID-19 pandemic has temporarily increased demand for basic medical equipment and supplies, and disrupted global supply chains. Governments at all levels and the private sector have found themselves scrambling — and often competing — for the supplies they need. Federal law anticipates that emergencies can generate this kind of sudden demand for medical equipment. Federal agencies not only have ample legal authority to respond to shortages, but also the duty and the authority to prepare for emergencies by planning, supply-chain monitoring, investment and partnership with the private sector, and stockpiling. Perhaps the most important federal law for preventing and ameliorating shortages, and the primary focus of this Chapter, is the federal Defense Production Act (DPA). The DPA provides a menu of powers to stimulate production, strengthen supply chains, coordinate expertise, and resolve market failures. Although the shortfall in personal protective equipment and other basic medical equipment was anticipated by planners and demonstrated in simulation exercises, federal action to address the problem in the face of the pandemic have landed somewhere between failing and making matters worse. This Chapter recommends an independent commission be established to investigate and draw lessons from the federal public health response, but in the meantime points to two core, fixable problems related to law and administration: (1) the failure of Congress and successive administrations to provide sufficient resources to staff and maintain a vigorous infrastructure to prepare for surges in demand, and (2) the failure of the current administration to use its legal authority to lead, manage, rationalize and stimulate production and distribution of needed equipment.