Congress cut billions of dollars in COVID-related funding from the broader government spending bill it just passed, jeopardizing President Biden’s plans for covering the costs of COVID testing and treatments, and making antiviral drugs available for free at pharmacies for those who test positive through the “test to treat” initiative.
However, a variety of other healthcare funding made it into the final package, including a five-month extension of COVID-era telehealth flexibilities for Medicare beneficiaries, and funds for pandemic preparedness. Congressional Democrats now plan to pass a separate COVID funding bill, although that effort will likely face stiff opposition from Senate Republicans.
The Gist: Removing COVID funding from the final spending package may signal the beginning of the end of federal pandemic relief spending, and could render the “test to treat” initiative, which has been praised by public health experts, dead on arrival.
Pharmacists, who have taken on a larger role in patient care during the pandemic, assisting with testing and vaccination of millions of Americans, have pushed for the ability to prescribe new antiviral therapies, but the American Medical Association criticized the initiative, maintaining that physicians should control the prescribing. Although the drug interactions and side effects cited by the AMA are important to manage, pharmacy-based “test to treat” would reduce time to treatment for those with COVID, and provide a sustainable mechanism for managing future surges of the disease.