By Maria Saporta and Ellie Hensley
As published in the Atlanta Business Chronicle on March 17, 2017
The Atlanta-based Centers for Disease Control and Prevention could lose nearly $1 billion in annual funding under the Republican proposal to replace Obamacare.
Such a move would hit Georgia especially hard because it would translate into local job cuts as well as impact multiple relationships the CDC has with universities and public health organizations.
A number of influential business and political leaders, however, are positioned to do everything they can to make sure the CDC remains whole.
David Ratcliffe, the retired CEO of the Southern Co., is co-chair of the Corporate Friends of the CDC, a lobbying group with about a dozen business members and two lobbyists in Washington, D.C. John Rice, vice chairman of General Electric Co., is the other co-chair.
“The whole proposition has been trying to convince the members of Congress that corporate America cares about a well-funded and well-resourced CDC,” said Ratcliffe, who also serves on the board of the CDC Foundation. “The value proposition of the CDC is pretty clear for the corporate community.”
The Corporate Friends of the CDC is an independent entity that receives no funding from either the CDC or the CDC Foundation. Its corporate members pay for the lobbying efforts.
Dr. Tom Frieden, who served as CDC director from 2009 until January 2017, explained what’s at stake for Georgia.
“Any time there is a reduction in the CDC’s budget, it’s going to hurt Georgia disproportionately,” Frieden said in a telephone interview. “It will hit Georgia just like every other state, but it will also affect Georgia especially because this is our home.”
Frieden said the proposal could impact Georgia in two different ways.
“One, most of the CDC’s budget, more than six out of every $10, goes right out to the front lines, state and local governments, to protect Americans,” Frieden said. “That means it goes to Georgia and other states, and that money would get cut. The CDC would also be less prepared to respond to emergencies as they arrive.
“Then there’s the fact that the CDC is one of the largest employers in Georgia and in Atlanta and if the CDC’s budget gets cut, that means fewer jobs, less business, less everything here in Georgia,” Frieden continued.
Mark Rosenberg, vice chairman of the Georgia Global Health Alliance and retired CEO of the Task Force for Global Health, said there is reason for tremendous concern if the Prevention and Public Health Fund is eliminated by 2019 as currently proposed.
“Prevention is part of the CDC name,” Rosenberg said. “By cutting prevention funding from the CDC, we stop research that will lead to prevention of diabetes, heart disease, cancer and strokes. People don’t understand how serious a threat this pandemic of chronic diseases is going to be worldwide.”
Ratcliffe said the Corporate Friends “will weigh in at the appropriate time,” and that they already have been hard at work talking to members of Congress as well as newly appointed Secretary of Health and Human Services Tom Price, a former congressman from Georgia.
“I’ve had a personal conversation with Tom Price and expressed our concern about the prevention fund being zeroed out,” Ratcliffe said. “Tom Price knows what’s at stake.”
Ratcliffe also said there’s “no stronger supporter of the CDC” than U.S. Sen. Johnny Isakson, who will do all he can “to make sure the CDC is well-funded.”
Ratcliffe said the group has met with the entire Georgia delegation, the members of which now understand how much the CDC means to the state with its $6 billion economic impact and 8,000 high-income employees. The CDC is the only government agency not headquartered in Washington, D.C.
“The CDC spends tens of millions of dollars a year providing grants to Atlanta-area universities for programs we do together,” Frieden said. “If we don’t have the money, we can’t provide those resources.”
Emory University has an especially close relationship with the CDC.
“The CDC’s mission and work is of particular importance to Atlanta, and to Emory, as Emory is adjacent to the CDC and has been a strong, long-term partner in many areas,” said Dr. Jonathan S. Lewin, executive vice president for health affairs, Emory University, and executive director of Woodruff Health Sciences Center.
David Stephens, interim dean of the Emory University School of Medicine, said the “CDC and Emory researchers often collaborate on infectious disease and public health research for emerging and globally challenging infectious diseases such as HIV/AIDS, Ebola, Zika, etc.”
The CDC is essential to America’s health, safety and security whether one lives in Atlanta or anywhere else in the country, Judy Monroe, president and CEO of the CDC Foundation, said. “That’s why it is vital to us all to have a strong and well-resourced CDC that has the staff, expertise and capability to prevent, detect and respond to disease, whether it be chronic diseases or outbreaks,” she said.
Meanwhile, Ratcliffe said there are other key issues at play.
“We need a good new director appointed at the CDC,” Ratcliffe said. “Secretary Price obviously shares our concern.”
The CDC also is the magnet for Atlanta and Georgia emerging as a nexus for global health.
“There’s not another state in the United States that has the kind of capability and critical mass of a global health network than Georgia,” said Ratcliffe, who is equally concerned and hopeful for the future of the CDC.
“We are extremely well-positioned with Secretary Price and his knowledge of the importance of the CDC,” Ratcliffe said. “Not just to the state of Georgia but to the entire country.”
Ellie Hensley covers the health care industry for the Atlanta Business Chronicle.