July 21, 2020

COVID-19 Response Update: Health Care


KEY TAKEAWAYS

  • Congress and President Trump have provided unprecedented support to American families and health care providers affected by the coronavirus.
  • Private companies, in partnership with the government, are making progress developing safe and effective COVID-19 vaccines and treatments.
  • Widespread testing remains key to helping people return to their daily lives at work and school.

Congress and the Trump administration have provided unprecedented relief to Americans and the health care system in response to the coronavirus. At the end of March, Congress passed the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act into law. It was the third coronavirus relief package passed by Congress within a month. At that time, nearly two dozen states had issued stay-at-home orders to help hospitals avoid being overwhelmed by coronavirus patients. It was difficult to get a COVID-19 test, and doctors had few tools to fight the virus.

Since then, the administration has implemented policies and distributed funds to support state governments and health care providers on the front lines of the virus response. From April 1 to April 7, there were an average of 145,000 tests per day nationwide. The average from July 14-20 was more than 780,000 per day. Researchers have also made significant progress developing vaccines and treatments. There is still work to be done to increase testing capacity and produce faster tests, to develop safe and effective vaccines and treatments, and to support the health care system. Congress will continue to work with the administration to build on this significant progress in the coming months.

health care update

Health Care

PROVIDER RELIEF FUNDING: In March, hospitals began canceling or postponing non-emergency services in order to slow the spread of coronavirus. Hospitals lost revenue from these canceled procedures at the same time that they faced cost increases from treating coronavirus patients. 

The CARES Act made $100 billion in provider relief funding available to support hospitals and health care workers. Congress provided an additional $75 billion through the Paycheck Protection Program and Health Care Enhancement Act. The Department of Health and Human Services has been distributing this money through the provider relief fund. HHS has made targeted distributions to hospitals in high-impact areas treating large numbers of patients with COVID-19. On July 10, HHS announced the allocation of $4 billion to safety-net acute care hospitals and specialty rural providers. Last week, HHS announced it will begin distributing $10 billion to hospitals in high-impact COVID-19 areas; this is the second round of funding for high-impact area hospitals.

Today, there is roughly $58 billion remaining to be distributed to hospitals in the provider relief fund.

Health Care

VACCINE DEVELOPMENT: Public health experts say that having an effective vaccine against COVID-19 will give people the confidence to fully reengage in society and revive the economy. When the CARES Act became law, development of a vaccine was just beginning.

The National Institutes of Health, the Biomedical Advanced Research and Development Authority, pharmaceutical companies, and other federal agencies are working to expedite the safe and effective development of a vaccine. So far, Congress has invested $10 billion in Operation Warp Speed, the public-private initiative to help develop vaccines and treatments. OWS aims to provide 300 million doses of a COVID-19 vaccine by early 2021.

Today, pharmaceutical companies are moving rapidly through the vaccine development process and continue to make significant progress toward a safe and effective vaccine. Pfizer aims to have its vaccine available by October; the vaccine has entered a phase 3 trial to determine its ability to protect against the virus. Moderna, in partnership with the National Institutes of Health, is also making strides with its vaccine candidate; the vaccine is expected to enter phase 3 trials later this month with more than 30,000 people in the study. The COVID-19 Prevention Trials Network, part of OWS, will conduct clinical trials of countermeasures for COVID-19. COVPN is working with communities nationwide to secure volunteers for phase 3 clinical trials.

As companies work to create a vaccine, they are simultaneously securing the products necessary to distribute the drug, such as vials and syringes. Once a vaccine is produced, public acceptance will be vital in ensuring people get vaccinated to protect the country from future outbreaks.   

Health Care

TREATMENTS: Prior to March, most doctors in the United States had little experience treating patients with COVID-19. Over the past four months, physicians have gained experience and are sharing best practices on how to care for patients.

So far, there are no drugs approved by the Food and Drug Administration to treat COVID-19. However, the FDA has given emergency use authorization to antiviral drugs, including remdesivir, to help keep cells healthy and prevent the virus from proliferating. Operation Warp Speed is also supporting the development of antivirals. Clinical trials are beginning to produce data on the safety and efficacy of COVID-19 treatments. 

The pharmaceutical industry is working on hundreds of treatments for the disease. Companies are looking at both current registered products and new treatments to determine their effectiveness at treating COVID-19. Treatments are being developed to effectively stimulate the body’s response to fight the virus and to keep patients from becoming extremely sick or dying from the disease.

The administration has implemented policies to ensure patients have access to treatments as they become available.

Health Care

WIDESPREAD TESTING: One of the biggest challenges facing the country in March was the limited availability of COVID-19 testing.

In response, the Trump administration and Congress have been working to provide widespread and affordable testing for COVID-19 to slow the spread of the outbreak and give Americans the peace of mind to return to work and school. In April, Congress invested $25 billion to increase testing and contact tracing nationwide. Of this, $1 billion was directed to provide free testing for the uninsured. This added to the $1 billion provided for free testing for the uninsured in the Families First Coronavirus Response Act, which the Senate passed March 18, to ensure that people have coverage to receive diagnostic testing for coronavirus authorized or approved by the FDA. The CARES Act expanded coverage to tests that diagnose and detect COVID-19 if they have received an emergency use authorization from the FDA, are under state review, or any other tests the HHS secretary determines appropriate.

The Paycheck Protection Program and Health Care Enhancement Act provided $1 billion for a new initiative led by the NIH: the Rapid Acceleration of Diagnostics program. RADx was launched to fast-track the approval of new diagnostic tests that will be affordable and easy to use at home or in a doctor’s office. The program will rapidly scale up these tests that are reliable and able to deliver accurate results within minutes.

Speaking at a Senate health appropriations subcommittee hearing on July 2, NIH Director Francis Collins said RADx has a goal of having “an additional 1 million tests per day available for the kind of point-of-care, the spot testing, that’s very much needed for going back to school, and going back to sports events” this fall.

Currently, testing is available throughout the country. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, more than 48 million tests have been reported across the country. As part of the Paycheck Protection Program and Health Care Enhancement Act, HHS distributed $11 billion so far to states, territories, localities, and tribes to ensure they have the resources to increase testing capacity. The administration has set a goal of making up to 50 million tests available per month by September.

Issue Tags: COVID-19, Health Care