Congress passes short-term spending bill—without additional COVID funding

Late last week, both chambers agreed to an interim funding bill to keep the government open through mid-December. In what is likely the last major piece of legislation before the midterm elections, the bill included an extension of two key Medicare payment programs for rural hospitals, but excluded any new funding for vaccines, testing, or treatment for either COVID-19 or monkeypox.

It has been more than 560 days since the Department of Health and Human Services last received federal COVID funding, and its free COVID vaccination program only has enough money to last through the end of 2022. 

The Gist: Ever since President Biden declared the pandemic “over”, prospects for the White House’s requested $22B to support the continued pandemic response have diminished. While most hospitals had already given up hope of any additional direct COVID aid coming their way, this bill was the last good chance for the lagging bivalent booster campaign to receive a needed shot in the arm. 

A recent Commonwealth Fund study found that if Americans got the new bivalent COVID booster at a rate similar to seasonal flu shots this fall, we could prevent 75K deaths and $44B in medical spending by March 2023—but unfortunately most Americans know little about the boosters, with less than four percent of eligible Americans receiving them so far. 

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