Americans without health insurance may have started to feel the impacts of dwindling COVID-19 funding as federal officials and experts in health care alike continue the call for replenished pandemic resources.
Congress has agreed on a new $10 billion COVID-19 package that would fill some of the holes that have started forming in the country’s pandemic response, but it’s stalled in the Senate over a Title 42 dispute, an immigration order Senate Republicans want to vote on before passing the package, Roll Call and other media reported. Members of Congress have returned from a spring recess, raising hope that the dispute will be settled soon.
The new bill is much smaller than what federal officials originally requested, but it includes funding for things such as new vaccines, COVID-19 treatments and testing resources. What it doesn’t include, however, is funding for the country’s pandemic response abroad.
It also doesn’t set aside money for the Uninsured Program, which is no longer accepting claims from health care providers to cover costs for uninsured Americans seeking COVID-19 testing, treatments and even vaccines. This leaves it up to providers to “absorb the cost or turn away people who are uninsured,” the White House said.
Additional funding is also needed to purchase more monoclonal antibody treatments, which the government said will run out as soon as late May, as well as other treatments including Paxlovid.
Here’s what to know about how COVID-19 funding and its impact on health care services.
Can I still get a COVID vaccine or test if I don’t have health insurance?
The Uninsured Americans program stopped accepting claims on April 5 from health care providers for vaccinating people without health insurance. The same government program for Americans without health insurance, citing “lack of sufficient funds,” stopped accepting claims for COVID-19 tests and treatments on March 22.
How exactly it will unfold without more funding remains unclear and may also depend on your state’s resources or other local programs. It can also vary by the provider or clinic, though many still seem to be waiting for more guidance from the White House or action from Congress before turning away patients without health insurance.
COVID-19 vaccines and treatments are purchased by the federal government, so the drugs themselves are free to patients when they’re shipped out to states and clinics. The worry is over the administration cost, or what people are charged for actually receiving treatment.
A spokesperson for CVS told CNET: “At this time, there is no cost for COVID-19 testing or vaccinations at CVS Pharmacy for uninsured individuals.”
A Walgreens spokesperson said the company “continues to provide access to vital COVID-19 services and medications at no cost to patients.” They noted the company is waiting for further guidance from federal agencies.
Quest Diagnostics, a large testing provider, may now charge up to $125 for a PCR test without insurance, ABC News reported.
Even without funding from the Uninsured Program, it is unlikely Americans without health insurance will be stuck with a bill for a COVID-19 vaccine or booster shot — at least right now. The CDC warned pharmacies participating in its Federal Retail Pharmacy Program that COVID-19 vaccines are still to be given out to patients for free, regardless of insurance status, or risk getting kicked out of the program. But as CNBC reported, pharmacies themselves can move out of the program, potentially exposing some uninsured patients to vaccination fees or narrowing their options.
If you need a COVID-19 test or treatment and don’t have insurance, you can call ahead to the clinic you plan to visit to see if, or how much, you’ll be charged for the administration fee. If you haven’t already, you can order a second round of home COVID-19 tests paid for by the government by visiting the US Postal Service website.
If I need a fourth shot or extra booster, will it still be free?
The CDC recently signed off on second COVID-19 boosters for adults over age 50, immunocompromised people and people who’ve received Johnson & Johnson’s vaccine plus booster dose.
At a recent media briefing with the White House COVID-19 Response Team, coordinator Jeff Zients said there’s enough government supply of vaccines to get eligible immunocompromised people a fourth shot, and also enough to secure fourth doses for other vulnerable populations, including seniors.
The bigger booster funding concern is for the general population, for which health regulators could authorize or recommend extra doses ahead of an anticipated fall or winter COVID-19 spike.
Should health agencies call for fourth doses for all adults, or even “if things change and there’s a need for a new vaccine,” Zients said, the US government won’t be able to fulfill the need if Congress doesn’t replenish the funding.
Will we still get free vaccines for children?
Zients also said that when a COVID-19 vaccine is available to children under age 5, the US will have the supply needed to vaccinate that age group. Moderna and Pfizer are both pursuing a vaccine for the youngest and last age group to be vaccinated, but neither has received FDA authorization yet.
What else will happen if funds run dry?
In addition to affecting future supplies of monoclonal antibodies and pill treatments for COVID-19, the supply of AstraZeneca’s prevention drug for immunocompromised people may also dwindle, HHS Secretary Xavier Becerra said at a White House COVID-19 briefing. The White House says it also needs more money to fund research on different vaccines, including pan-coronavirus vaccines.
Other countries may also be impacted by a lack of US COVID-19 funding, as some of the money for the pandemic response goes to vaccination aid abroad. Only 15.2% of people in low-income countries have received at least one dose of a COVID-19 vaccine, according to Our World in Data.
Dr. Anna Durbin, a professor in the Department of International Health at Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, suggested at a recent media briefing that the concern in lack of funding extends beyond the current COVID-19 wave, and into future pandemics of different viruses. Will we be prepared?
“We’ve had previous examples where we were concerned about pandemics — whether it be from another H1N1, another avian influenza virus, SARS-CoV-1,” she said. “And we realize we didn’t put the money into prevention that we could’ve at the time.”
When COVID-19 came around, the US was not prepared, she said.
“Now is the time to really cement that funding and think about the future and prevention,” Durbin said. “Not just of COVID, but of future pandemics that are surely going to come.”
The information contained in this article is for educational and informational purposes only and is not intended as health or medical advice. Always consult a physician or other qualified health provider regarding any questions you may have about a medical condition or health objectives.