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The Government Is Running Out of Money for COVID-19 Testing

by | Mar 31, 2022 | Articles, Essential, Funding-lir, Laboratory Industry Report

The White House recently wrote that without restoring COVID-19 funding, the country won’t be able to buy enough supplies to combat the virus.

With Congress having eliminated COVID-19 funding from the larger spending bill, the Biden Administration is warning that the US is running out of money for COVID-19 testing and vaccines. In a letter to Congress, the White House wrote that without restoration of the funding, the country won’t be able to buy ample supplies of booster shots, new vaccines, antiviral pills, and monoclonal antibody treatments.

The COVID-19 Funding Problem

Republican and Democratic lawmakers had initially agreed to include $15.6 billion—less than the $22.5 billion that the White House requested—for COVID-19 funding in the $1.5 trillion government spending package. But talks quickly dissolved. Republicans objected to providing the funding without first getting details about how the previous $6 trillion in funding has been used. Republican lawmakers have accused the administration of using the money as a “slush fund” to renovate baseball stadiums, replace golf course irrigation systems, fund construction of luxury hotels, and other abusive purposes. “During a time of soaring prices, continued supply chain challenges, and other disruptions to our economy, taxpayers and lawmakers must have transparency into how this funding is being used,” wrote Florida’s Republican Senator Marco Rubio in a letter to the General Accounting Office requesting an investigation. Democrats responded by saying that they’ll work to pass a standalone bill for COVID-19 funding. The problem with that plan is that any bill the Democrats come up with is unlikely to pass the Senate without Republican support.

COVID-19 Money Is Running Out

Meanwhile, the previously allocated federal COVID-19 money is running out. As the Democrats warned, 30 states stand to lose money that had been allocated to them on previous spending packages. The White House asserts that, as a result of the uncertainty of funding, it will have to cut back shipments of monoclonal antibody treatments to states by 30 percent in the last weeks of March, and that the nation's supply of such treatments may run out as early as May. The government also can’t buy more oral antiviral treatments like Paxlovid beyond the 20 million treatments already secured, and has to scale back planned purchases of preventive treatments for immunocompromised people. The uncertainty is also impacting vaccines. Federal funding for COVID-19 testing and treatment of uninsured Americans has dried up as of March 23, the Health Services and Resources Administration (HSRA) stated. The agency also announced that coverage for COVID-19 vaccines for the uninsured will no longer be available after April 5, leaving 11.4 million Americans in the cold. There are currently enough vaccine doses available for immunocompromised people to get boosters; but additional funding may be needed to get the rest of the US population fourth doses, as well as enable the administration to achieve its objectives in distributing vaccines to poorer countries around the world. The recent increase in Omicron BA.2 subvariant cases adds to the malevolency of the situation. "With cases rising abroad, scientific and medical experts have been clear that in the next couple of months we could see rising cases of COVID-19 here in the United States as well. Waiting to provide funding until we're in a surge will be too late," wrote Shalanda Young, the acting director of the Office of Management and Budget, and Jeffrey Zients, the White House coordinator for COVID-19 response at the time.

Impact on Labs

Labs, physicians, and other providers will also feel the pinch if the stalemate continues and federal reimbursements for COVID-19 tests dry up. The program that reimburses medical providers for providing COVID testing, treatments, and vaccines to uninsured people will have to be scaled back in March and shuttered in April without additional funding, the White House warned. And don’t forget about lab companies and producers of tests and testing supplies. Domestic manufacturers of rapid, at-home COVID-19 tests who are supplying their products to the government are especially vulnerable. Without additional funding, the government may only be able to continue purchasing those tests through the month of June. Lack of funding is also likely to impair federally supported research into next-generation COVID-19 vaccines and surveillance for new variants. The administration will also have to to limit its push to help poorer countries vaccinate people.

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