HHS secretary warns about future without COVID-19 funding
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Health and Human Services (HHS) Secretary Xavier Becerra warned Thursday about the United States’ future without COVID-19 funding.
In an interview with The Associated Press, the former California attorney general said that America has reached a “pivotal point” in the third year of the pandemic.
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“How well we pivot is on us,” he cautioned, noting that without the money for life-saving vaccines, tests and treatments America will be “stuck on the ground.”
In his State of the Union address, President Biden presented a COVID-19 initiative for a new and “more normal” phase of the pandemic.
The administration’s National COVID-19 Preparedness Plan – released earlier this month – focuses on four key goals, including protecting against and treating the disease, preparing for new variants, preventing economic and educational shutdowns and continuing to lead the effort to vaccinate the world.
The plan includes “Test to Treat,” which allows Americans to get tested for coronavirus at a pharmacy and receive antiviral pills “on the spot at no cost” if they are positive.
The president noted that vaccine-maker Pfizer Inc. is currently “working overtime” to get Americans a million pills in March and more than double that number in April.
Becerra said that a funding impasse with lawmakers could hamper “Test to Treat,” adding that HHS is trying also to prepare in order for millions not to lose health insurance if their eligibility for Medicaid lapses when the government ends the nationwide COVID-19 public health emergency.
The White House and Capitol Hill are currently deadlocked over requests for aid and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., scrapped pandemic aid from the massive $1.5 trillion spending bill signed by the president on Tuesday.
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Biden had originally asked for $22.5 billion which later became a $15.6 billion package, but objections from both Democrats and Republicans have kept a deal from going through.
On Thursday, Pelosi called on the White House to request $45 billion in COVID-19 relief.
“I think they should be double what they asked for, because even when they were asking for like 20-some [billion dollars] it was only going to get us to June,” Pelosi told reporters, according to The Hill.
The White House says that the money for some efforts will run out by the end of the month, with free COVID-19 care for the uninsured also at risk.
Becerra said that a return to “normal living” will only work “if everyone does their part.”
If not, he said that Americans should prepare, highlighting that the scientists have “communicated pretty clearly with the American people what to do” even as others “[decide] to slant or skew the message, or completely distort in ways that are untrue.”
“We have to get to a point where we believe the health status of the country and of our people is sufficiently stabilized,” Becerra concluded. “I think we’re getting closer and closer to that point where we see no need to have those five alarms.”
The Associated Press contributed to this report.