Patient groups urge lawmakers to restore access to COVID treatment

A May 16 letter signed by 125 patient advocacy groups urges congressional leaders to restore the access to COVID treatment for the uninsured that has been cut during wrangling on Capitol Hill over pandemic funding—just as the number of cases in the country is going up.

“As bipartisan negotiations regarding additional funding for the COVID-19 response continue, Congress must include measures to ensure that everyone, regardless of insurance status, can continue to access lifesaving vaccines, testing, and treatment,” says the letter, sent to congressional leadership from national and state patient and health advocacy groups.

The Health Resources and Services Administration (HRSA) set up the COVID-19 Uninsured Program at the start of the pandemic, and it has paid for more than 30,000 COVID-19 tests, treatment of 34,000 people and delivery of more than 18,000 immunizations, according to the letter.

Due to a lack of funds, HRSA has been unable to process claims for testing or treatment since March 22 and ceased taking claims for immunizations since April 5, the letter says.

“Without the HRSA Uninsured Program, uninsured Americans have already begun losing access to testing, treatment, and vaccination services, placing themselves and other members of their communities at risk of infection,” the letter says. “Unless Congress acts, this lack of funding will only exacerbate existing racial and ethnic disparities in access to health services for historically marginalized communities.”

Senate considers less funding than White House requested

The White House sought $22.5 billion in COVID-19 financing in March 2022, but the Senate is only discussing a $10 billion deal that excludes COVID services for the uninsured, Politico says. According to President Biden, the absence of funding will cause more Americans to “die unnecessarily.”

“We will lose our place in line for America to order new COVID treatments and vaccines for the fall, including next-generation vaccines under development, and be unable to maintain our supply of COVID tests,” said Biden in his statement on May 9.

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