More COVID-19 response funding could be coming from the federal government but—as of now—none of it would be for healthcare providers, a senior senator said Tuesday.
Health and Human Services Secretary Xavier Becerra said his department might soon request an additional $30 billion, according to Sen. Roy Blunt (Mo.), the senior Republican on the HHS appropriations subcommittee.
Rather than seeking further relief for providers that have struggled during the pandemic, HHS is focused on other priorities, such as testing, treatment and vaccines, Blunt said. The department would allocate new money toward the following areas, he said:
- $18 billion to purchase oral antivirals, monoclonal antibodies and vaccines
- $5 billion for testing capacity and at-home test development
- $3 billion for the HHS fund that reimburses providers treating uninsured COVID-19 patients, which is expected to run dry as soon as this spring
- $4 billion to advance vaccines against future variants of the novel coronavirus
- $500 million for the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to maintain outbreak surveillance and other operations
The American Hospital Association and other provider groups have been lobbying for the Provider Relief Fund to be replenished, so far without success. According to HHS, the program’s $178 billion has either been spent or set aside for pending distributions.
The AHA asked Congress for another $25 billion, citing financial pressure on hospitals related to the omicron and delta variants and to increased labor costs. That request appears to have fallen flat on Capitol Hill as the omicron variant wanes. Hospitalizations are down by about 38% compared to two weeks ago, according to the CDC.
HHS has not made a formal request for $30 billion, but additional pandemic funding could be included in a spending bill Congress needs to pass next month to prevent a government shutdown.
“HHS leaders regularly engage with Congress about COVID resources, and in a Tuesday conversation with congressional staff, HHS discussed the status of COVID response funds as well as the need for additional resources to support securing more life-saving treatments and vaccines, sustaining testing capacity and investing in research and development of next-generation vaccines,” an department spokesperson said in a statement.
White House press secretary Jen Psaki addressed pandemic resources during a news conference Tuesday. “We continue to have sufficient funds to respond to the current omicron surge,” she said. “In the coming weeks, our goal has always been to ensure that we are well prepared to stay ahead of the virus.”