Biden’s administration may have extra funds to struggle Omicron.

Xavier Becerra, the secretary of well being and human companies, hinted on Tuesday that the Biden administration might have to ask Congress for extra money to struggle the coronavirus pandemic, relying on the scope and severity of a possible new wave of infections fueled by the Omicron variant.

Throughout a round-table dialogue with reporters that centered closely on testing, Mr. Becerra famous that whereas the administration has some flexibility to maneuver cash round, of the $50 billion Congress has allotted for testing, about $10 billion is left. President Biden has made expanded testing a centerpiece of the winter pandemic technique he just lately introduced.

“Are we going to have greater than $10 billion price of wants and prices on Covid, particularly with reference to testing?” Mr. Becerra stated. “There’s a robust likelihood we’ll, relying on the place Omicron takes us.” He added that his division’s consultants have been attempting to make projections to find out whether or not extra funding could be mandatory — earlier than the necessity turns into pressing.

“The president stated we’ve acquired to remain forward of this, so we don’t need to be asking Congress for cash after we all know we want it,” he stated.

With the pandemic heading into its third yr, and Omicron on the horizon, a lot of the cash that Congress has allotted for coronavirus response has been spent. The $2 trillion CARES Act was signed by former President Donald J. Trump in March 2020, and the $1.9 trillion American Rescue Plan was signed by Mr. Biden in March 2021. Each have been aimed toward boosting the financial system, in addition to addressing People’ well being wants in the course of the disaster.

The rescue plan included $14 billion to hurry up vaccine distribution, and $130 billion to assist faculties reopen safely, amongst different coronavirus-related provisions. However the plan, and the CARES Act earlier than it, went into impact earlier than the emergence of the Delta variant this summer time, which induced hospitalizations and deaths to spike, including pressure to an already overburdened well being care system.

The Facilities for Illness Management and Prevention has been tracking Omicron cases, which have now turned up in more than 20 states. “Even if most infections are mild, a highly transmissible variant could result in enough cases to overwhelm health systems,” agency officials wrote in a report last week.

While early evidence has begun to emerge about Omicron, it remains unclear how often cases lead to hospitalizations or deaths. The variant seems to be able to partially dodge the body’s immune defenses, but it has yet to be determined to what degree vaccination and prior infection may safeguard individuals from severe disease.

On Thursday, the Department of Health and Human Services announced it was releasing $9 billion in “provider relief fund” payments to bolster hospitals and other health care providers that have experienced revenue losses because of the pandemic. More than 69,000 providers in all 50 states, plus Washington, D.C., and eight territories, will receive payments.

In September, the department announced that it would spend a total of $25.5 billion on the effort. That includes the $9 billion released on Thursday and $8.5 billion released last week to rural health care providers. The remainder of the funds will be disbursed in 2022.

When he recently announced his winter strategy, Mr. Biden vowed to fight the pandemic with “science and speed.” He said that people who buy at-home rapid coronavirus tests would soon be eligible for reimbursement from their insurers, and that to ensure access for the uninsured, the federal government would distribute 25 million tests to community health centers and rural clinics.

After the announcement, administration officials said people buying the tests would have to request reimbursement, rather than being reimbursed in the pharmacy as when filling prescriptions. Some public health experts and consumer advocates have balked at that. Mr. Becerra said Thursday that his department was still figuring out the particulars. A number of states have been distributing free at-home tests, including Massachusetts, New Hampshire, Maryland, Colorado and Ohio.

Other countries have spent more heavily on rapid testing. In Britain, citizens can use a government website to order free rapid tests for home use. Germany invested hundreds of millions of dollars to create a network of 15,000 rapid testing sites. The United States has instead focused public purchasing on vaccines, and efforts to encourage their uptake.

On Tuesday, Mr. Becerra pledged, “We are going to make sure that the American people have access to tests and they don’t have to pay out of pocket.”

“How that exactly gets done, we work with our team to make it happen,” he added. “We’re hoping that it will be done in a way that is as smooth as possible.”

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