March 29, 2022, 9:10 a.m.— What do you call a public health emergency that outruns the will of some elected officials to keep mitigating against it?
I’m sorry to say that you call it the COVID-19 pandemic, which isn’t over. To the extent that it has ebbed, it’s because of robust federal funding, not in spite of it. To keep fighting the disease while restoring public health, such allocations must continue to flow. The nation’s latest coronavirus response strategy, including buildups of antiviral medications and testing capacity, and unbroken evolutions of vaccine development, is in doubt unless Congress moves quickly.
This is the message that the Academy, as part of the Group of Six, just delivered to Congress.
Lawmakers must “swiftly appropriate additional funding for COVID-19 response to ensure our patients can continue to access lifesaving vaccines and therapeutics, testing, and to ensure we are prepared for future COVID-19 variants,” said our March 22 letter to House and Senate leaders. The AAFP signed it alongside the American Osteopathic Association, the American Academy of Pediatrics, the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, the American College of Physicians and the American Psychiatric Association.
Important COVID spending originally attached to the omnibus package passed earlier in March, which contained several strong wins for our advocacy, was a casualty of partisan and intraparty disagreements — bickering of a kind that political reporters have too politely called an impasse. It’s a characterization that fails to convey the high stakes, particularly for the primary care practices that have been on the pandemic’s front lines and continue to belong there.
The White House has said as much. Epidemiologists and other experts have warned about the risks that remain. Prominent voices, including The New York Times’ editorial board, have loudly concurred. So it shouldn’t be difficult to grasp: The threat of new variants and the long tail of post-infection impacts on a large patient population demand action.
“Specifically, the Group of Six calls on Congress to pass robust COVID supplemental funding to continue to respond to and hopefully minimize the impact of COVID-19 on our patients. With an uptick of the COVID virus detected by the CDC in testing of U.S. wastewater and the increasing prevalence of the BA.2 variant making up 23% of COVID cases, time is of the essence,” the Group of Six said.
“New funding is necessary to purchase enough booster vaccines for all patients, in the event that additional boosters are authorized and recommended, particularly for elderly and immunocompromised individuals who are already at higher risk of severe disease or death from COVID-19. Resources are also needed for the development and supply of variant-specific vaccines, if needed, in the future.
“Another particularly urgent issue is that physicians will not be able to submit claims for the testing, treatment and vaccination of their uninsured patients as soon as March 22, leaving some of the most vulnerable patients with limited or no access to care for COVID-19 and putting additional burden on safety-net clinicians.”
The corner we would turn if Congress fails to do what’s necessary wouldn’t lead to the end of the pandemic, toward some new normal. An artificial limiting of the country’s resources would instead take us somewhere darker than where we’ve just been. That’s why the Academy will continue to advocate for spending our members know is absolutely crucial.