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VOL. 129 | NO. 205 | Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Political Leaders Weigh In on Ebola Prep

By Bill Dries

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There is the medical response to the potential of an Ebola outbreak in the U.S. And then there is the political response to the possibility of such an outbreak.

And health care professionals tend to stick to the medical response and leave the political response to those who are elected.

But the two responses do intersect as they did last week during a panel discussion at Methodist University Hospital with a group of eight health care professionals hosted by U.S. Sen. Lamar Alexander, R-Tenn.

Just before the discussion, President Barack Obama announced in Washington the appointment of Ron Klain as the Ebola “czar” or coordinator of the federal response to the disease. Klain is an attorney who is a former chief of staff to Vice Presidents Joe Biden and Al Gore.

Alexander said he would have preferred a cabinet-level pick with some accountability to Congress and someone who could act as a general or admiral in coordinating the response.

“The last thing I want to do is for Ebola to become political,” Alexander said last week in Memphis. “This is a serious response. I am determined to give the president whatever support he needs in terms of funding and comprehensive emergency response to containing Ebola to Africa and to make sure it doesn’t spread to the United States.”


Apart from the panel discussion with the eight medical experts, U.S. Rep. Steve Cohen, D-Memphis, said Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam’s decision for now not to accept a federally funded expansion of Medicaid in Tennessee, known as TennCare, could worsen an Ebola outbreak in the state.

“That’s people that don’t have access to go get a flu shot,” Cohen said. “They are not as likely to go and see a doctor and find out that they’ve got a disease and therefore won’t be recognized and they won’t be isolated. The lack of spreading Medicaid opportunity and health care funding puts all of us at risk if there is such an Ebola breakout.”


U.S. Rep. Stephen Fincher, R-Frog Jump, whose district includes parts of East Memphis and East Shelby County didn’t specifically respond to Cohen’s comments but speaking after Cohen, told the group, “The biggest thing I think we need to do as public servants is not make this political.”

“We’ve got to somehow remove the political restraints and say folks this is what it is, this is what we have to do to make sure we are all safe,” Fincher added.

Asked about Cohen’s remarks later, Alexander told reporters, “We can disagree on ObamaCare and still work together.”

Alexander noted that at the outset he likened Ebola’s impact to that of Islamic State militants and said the comparison was met with criticism that he believes has been answered given how serious the outbreak has become.

Alexander also favors travel restrictions.

“I think the sensible thing to do for the time being is to restrict travel, from the three West African countries where there is an epidemic of Ebola, to essential persons,” he said. “And anyone who does travel needs to be quarantined for 21 days.”

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