Hill Day 2017:
Save the ELC
by Nisha Quasba, intern, Public Policy
s the federal government transitions to a new administration
and policies shift, APHL continues to advocate for public health
laboratories (PHLs) on Capitol Hill. On March 6, APHL members and
staff spent time in leadership offices of the Senate Health, Education, Labor,
and Pensions Committee, the House Energy and Commerce Committee and
the Appropriations Committees of the Senate and House.
The focus was the potential loss of the flexible laboratory funding provided
by the Epidemiology and Laboratory Capacity (ELC) for Infectious Diseases
Cooperative Agreement, which is funded through the Prevention and Public
Health Fund (PPHF) under the Affordable Care Act (ACA). APHL’s presence on
the Hill became more critical the morning of Hill Day, when the House Ways
and Means Committee announced the mark-up of the budget reconciliation
recommendation to repeal and replace ACA would commence that week.
e really got to point out some important roles of the
state labs…and start to think about the rare things all the
funding is meant to look for that otherwise wouldn’t be on
(From left to right): Dr. Chris Whelen, Dr. Jennifer Rakeman-Cagno, Dr. Denise Toney and Dr. Sara Vetter
Jennifer Rakeman-Cagno, PhD, assistant commissioner of New York City’s PHL,
spoke about an influenza outbreak of a rare avian strain in a cat shelter this
past winter. She illustrated the course of the outbreak response: identifying
infected cats, contacting staff and cat adopters from the shelter, and
assembling a team to tackle the large volume of specimens. In every office, she
reiterated that only with ELC funding was she able to assemble such a quick
and contained response—cases were controlled within a matter of weeks and
human infection was limited to one individual.
Dr. Sarah Vetter, Minnesota PHL’s infectious disease manager, explained how
ELC funding allowed her laboratory to get new equipment during the Zika
outbreak, permitting Minnesota to absorb the burden of accepting specimens
from neighboring states. Director of Hawaii’s PHL and APHL President Chris
Whelen, PhD, highlighted the advantages of whole genome sequencing, such
as the key role it played in identifying a strain of gonorrhea that otherwise
had no epidemiological correlation with other known outbreaks, and how ELC
funding supported the research.
Congressional staffers appeared to understand the value of the funds, but
opinions were mixed about designating a permanent source of funding.
Republican staffers suggested the fund could be appropriated through sources
outside of the ACA, while their Democratic colleagues seemed skeptical of
this solution. The final meeting of the day was with the staff from the House
Oversight Committee under the Energy and Commerce Committee, where
members were questioned about a range of topics including international
outbreaks, antibiotic resistance and biosecurity. After the last meeting, Dr.
Denise Toney, director of Virginia’s PHL, said, “This was a good meeting because
we really got to point out some important roles of the state labs…and start to
think about the rare things all the funding is meant to look for that otherwise
wouldn’t be on our radar.”
Sara Vetter and a Hill staffer discuss last year's Zika outbreak
Listen to the Lab Culture podcast that recaps Hill Day 2017.
Spring 2017 LAB MATTERS