Medical groups press Congress to move faster on Zika funding

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The American Medical Association told Congress Tuesday to stop dragging its feet and post funds to combat the Zika virus, a mosquito-borne virus that causes birth defects and is threatening the U.S. mainland.

It also told lawmakers to set aside money in a special fund within the Health and Human Services Department, so that Washington doesn’t have to swipe funds from other accounts every time there is a public health emergency.

“Without sufficient funding for research, prevention, control and treatment of illnesses associated with the Zika virus, the United States will be ill-equipped to deploy the kind of public health response needed to keep our citizens safe and healthy,” said incoming AMA President Andrew W. Gurman. “We are calling on Congress to immediately ensure adequate funding to help combat the Zika virus that will very soon impact the health and well-being of our citizens, and put unborn babies at unnecessary risk for birth defects and complications.”

The Centers for Disease Control has recorded nearly 700 travel-related cases in the 50 states and D.C., including nearly a dozen through sexual transmission, though it expects Zika to circulate on its own this summer, when Aedes mosquitos will flourish.

President Obama shifted nearly $600 million, most of it from the Ebola fight in West Africa, to combat Zika in the near term, though he wants Congress to pony up $1.9 billion more to backfill that money and combat the latest health threat at home and abroad.

Instead, congressional negotiators are reconciling two plans that offer much less.

The Senate approved $1.1 billion in emergency funding that isn’t offset with cuts elsewhere in the federal budget, while the House moved to take $622 million more from the lingering Ebola response and other health accounts to address the emerging threat.

Besides the AMA, four medical groups representing physicians, pediatricians and obstetricians and gynecologists urged CongressTuesday “in the strongest possible terms” to act without delay.

“While we were encouraged that each chamber of Congress passed its own legislation to address the Zika issue and that a conference committee was convened,” they said.

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