Washington just let the nation down on Covid funding

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Covid-19 may be unpredictable, but the failure of negotiations over additional Covid funding was, sadly, entirely predictable. Now, the United States may not be prepared if – or when – there is a pandemic surge in the fall.

A tenuous bipartisan deal for $10 billion in additional emergency aid fell apart on Thursday as Republicans accused the White House of lying about whether the funds were running out. Last week, the administration announced it was diverting roughly the same amount of money — $10 billion — from testing and other programs to buy updated vaccines, 10 million Paxlovid antiviral treatments from Pfizer and more monoclonal antibody treatments.

That didn’t sit well with Senator Mitt Romney, a key player in the talks, who said the move “makes our ability to work together and trust what we’re told very deeply shaken.”

White House officials may have thought Republicans would never get on board. Even so, the reassignment made a deal virtually impossible. Mustering GOP support was already difficult for Romney and Richard Burr, another Republican negotiator, as Republicans balked at any new spending, especially on preventative measures such as testing and vaccines.

So where does that leave the country? What is evident is that even with more than 100,000 new cases per day, continued disruptions, and the likelihood of additional surges and variants, the United States is moving away from a government-led approach to combat against covid. And that will lead to a huge change once the current supply of tests, treatments and vaccines is exhausted.

The Kaiser Family Foundation released a detailed report in March detailing the implications of what happens when the federal government loses purchasing power. One of the conclusions: Those most vulnerable to serious complications from Covid will be the most affected. This will “exacerbate existing disparities in health and financial security”.

Uninsured people will have to pay out of pocket for tests and treatment. There will not be enough free vaccines. Medicare beneficiaries could face out-of-pocket costs for treatment drugs. For those with private insurance, insurers will have to negotiate prices, which could lead to higher costs and premiums.

“People of color are more likely to be uninsured than their white counterparts and face more potential barriers to accessing care,” according to the report. “Any change that results in more limited access to Covid-19 testing, treatment services or vaccines, or that forces people to pay out of pocket for these services, will likely exacerbate these disparities and may also result in a greater financial burden. .”

Another conclusion: There is no guarantee that these tools will even be available. The federal government was able to guarantee initial access to tests, antivirals and vaccines because it prepaid for them. Without this certainty, manufacturers can slow down or completely halt production when demand drops. Insurers and the United States will also compete for access with global buyers.

“The last thing manufacturers of existing vaccines and treatments need is a boom and bust cycle where the U.S. government commits to supporting manufacturing, then doesn’t commit, then rolls back,” he said. said Rena Conti, a Boston health economist. University and co-author of a Brookings Institution report arguing for federal investment in vaccines and treatments.

“When funding is inconsistent, manufacturers look for other opportunities to redirect those factories or that supply of highly skilled labor,” she told me. Public investment in new treatments and vaccines is needed, she said, “because the private sector will always underinvest.”

Remember when people couldn’t find tests during the omicron surge in December and January? That’s because manufacturing slowed as demand fell last year. The United States had to commit to buying enough vaccines and 20 million courses of Paxlovid, the antiviral.

There is not enough time for a smooth transition to the private market before the next Covid mutation. Nobody knows what this variant will look like – but vaccines, tests, monoclonal antibody treatments and antiviral drugs will be needed. Just like money. Without this investment now, the United States is unlikely to be prepared for anything that will come this fall.

In other words, expect more economic disruption and more unnecessary suffering, just in time for the midterm elections. Apparently, neither party is immune to playing politics with public health.

More from Bloomberg Opinion:

• Where did the $6 trillion in Covid funding go? : publishers

• Voters are not worried about Covid. Politicians should be: Jonathan Bernstein

• Did public health officials just give up on Covid-19? : Faye Flam

This column does not necessarily reflect the opinion of the Editorial Board or of Bloomberg LP and its owners.

Julianna Goldman is a Bloomberg Opinion columnist who was previously a Washington correspondent for CBS News and a White House correspondent for Bloomberg News and Bloomberg Television.

More stories like this are available at bloomberg.com/opinion

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