How Are Pharmacies Affected by Congressional COVID-19 Funding Impasse?

A federal agency already has stopped accepting reimbursement claims for some COVID-19 testing and treatment of uninsured Americans, and pharmacists can expect that trend to continue with a standoff between Congress and the White House on continued funding for the pandemic response. Here is more information on how the stalemate might also affect the future supply of vaccines and tests.

WASHINGTON, DC — At a recent briefing, the White House COVID-19 response coordinator warned about the potential impact on vaccination supply if a congressional impasse on funding continues.

“ We have enough supply for the immunocompromised to get a fourth dose and, if authorized in the coming weeks, enough supply for fourth doses for our most vulnerable, including seniors,” Jeff Zients said shortly before the Food and Drug Administration authorized the doses for adults 50 and older. “So we have enough inventory of vaccines to support possible fourth doses this spring. However, if the science shows that fourth doses are needed for the general population later this year, we will not have the supply necessary to ensure shots are available, free, and easy to access for all Americans.”

He also cautioned that, if there later is a need for a new formulation – perhaps in response to a new variant “we won’t be able to secure doses for the American people and we won’t be able to ensure America is first in line for them.”

“Not having enough vaccines is completely unacceptable, as vaccines have proven to be our single most important tool in protecting Americans. We should be securing additional supply right now,” Zients said. “Many other countries are already doing so. In fact, Japan, Vietnam, the Philippines, and Hong Kong have already secured future booster doses.”

Funding issues also will affect the availability of testing, related to manufacturing capacity, he advised, adding, “ And because it takes months to ramp back up to rebuild capacity, failure to invest now will leave us with insufficient testing capacity and supply if we see another surge in cases and demand for testing increases once again. That should not be allowed to happen.”

“To summarize the consequences of congressional inaction are severe and they are immediate: the uninsured fund is winding down, fewer lifesaving monoclonal treatments are being sent to states, fewer treatments available for the immunocompromised, and we risk not having sufficient vaccine supply or testing capacity,” Zients aid. “These consequences will only get more significant over time, with less treatments, vaccines, and tests for the American people.”

A briefing paper  from the Kaiser Family Foundation (KFF), explains, “A current impasse in Congress threatens continued funding for COVID-19 testing, treatment, and vaccines. The White House asked Congress for an additional $22.5 billion to support domestic and global COVID-19 efforts.”,regardless%20of%20their%20insurance%20status

KFF authors add that, during the recent negotiations to fund the federal government for FY 2022, Congress reduced the amount to $15.6 billion and then stripped it from the final bill.

“Without additional resources, the White House has said that several programs will need to be discontinued, including the Health Resources and Services Administration (HRSA) COVID-19 Uninsured Program, established to reimburse health care providers for the costs of delivering COVID-19 testing and treatment services and administering vaccines to those who are uninsured,” according to the brief. “HRSA has announced that due to lack of funding, the program stopped accepting reimbursement claims for COVID-19 testing and treatment services on March 22, 2022, and will stop accepting claims for vaccine administration on April 5, 2022. “

That could have significant ramifications for pharmacies, which provide most of the vaccinations and testing in the United States. For insured recipients of vaccinations and testing, the services should be covered in most cases, according to federal officials.

In response to a reporter’s question during the briefing, Zients explained, “Where we do not have sufficient doses is later in the year if there’s a — the science dictates that all Americans should get a booster or if there’s a need for a new formulation of the vaccine — a variant-specific vaccine, for example — then we will not have sufficient supply. In terms of people getting their primary series — their first or second dose, or their first booster — we continue to have sufficient supply in the near term.”

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