Congress’ failure to include new COVID money in the spending bill passed last week could put uninsured people on the hook for testing and treatment and provide less funding for booster shots and monoclonal antibodies, the White House said Tuesday.
Congress passed a $1.5 trillion omnibus spending bill last week that included $780 billion in defense spending and more than $13 billion in aid for Ukraine, but left out any money for COVID relief efforts.
The Biden administration asked for more than $30 billion in funding back in February, but a plan to provide more than $15 billion was ultimately pulled from the bill because of, according to House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, “Republican insistence” as well as Democrats unwilling to give back unspent pandemic relief money from states in order to cover the expense.
Biden signed the spending bill Tuesday, but at the same time, the White House sharply criticized Congress for failing to include COVID money. “Further inaction will set us back, leave us less prepared, and cost us more lives,” a senior Biden administration official said during a Tuesday call.
As a result of the lack of funding, the administration said the federal government won’t have enough funding to secure booster doses for all Americans if more are needed, the availability of treatments such as monoclonal antibodies and oral antivirals will be hamstrung, and efforts to monitor emerging variants and vaccinate the rest of the world will be curtailed.
Perhaps most alarmingly, the federal government will stop accepting claims for testing and treatment for uninsured people by March 22—potentially leaving them on the hook for the cost of getting COVID. April 5 will, as of now, also mark the last day uninsured people can get vaccinated, according to the White House.
House Democrats have indicated they’ll try to pass a standalone bill, but the legislation faces long odds in the Senate. Thirty-six Republican senators led by Sen. Mitt Romney sent a letter to the White House earlier this month claiming it was "not yet clear why additional funding is needed” and vowing to oppose $30 billion in new COVID spending until the federal government releases “a full accounting of how the government has already spent the first $6 trillion.”
Romney ultimately voted against the $1.5 omnibus spending bill anyway, criticizing the process and calling the bill itself “bloated.”
While current caseloads and hospitalizations as a result of COVID are currently low in most parts of the country following the enormous Omicron wave, the cyclical nature of the past two years have indicated that another rise in cases is not far off.
Bloomberg reported earlier this week that more than a third of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s wastewater sites, which have tended to precede a rise in cases, had seen rising trends in the first 10 days of March. Pfizer also formally requested that the FDA approve a fourth shot for Americans over the age of 65 Wednesday, and its CEO recently argued that a second booster would be necessary.