Health Care — Senate agrees to provide $10 billion in COVID funds

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2021 was the worst year on record for road rage, with more than 500 people being shot, according to a new report from a gun control group.

The federal government on Monday paved the way for more COVID-19 resources. We’ll look at the Senate’s deal for $10 billion in additional pandemic funding and the White House announcing more free coronavirus tests for people on Medicare.

For The Hill, we’re Peter Sullivan, Nathaniel Weixel and Joseph Choi. Send us tips and feedback at psullivan@thehill.com, nweixel@thehill.com and jchoi@thehill.com.

Let’s get started.

Senators reach COVID-19 deal, leave out global aid

Senators in both parties have reached a deal to provide $10 billion for the fight against COVID-19, but the agreement leaves out funding for the global virus response, according to Senate aides.

The agreement could clear the path for Congress to finally pass some new funding for the virus response, which the White House has been warning for weeks is urgently needed to allow for purchases of more vaccines, treatments and tests.

However, the $10 billion deal is less than half of the $22.5 billion the White House initially requested. Even that full amount was only for short-term needs, and the White House said it would need to come back for more money later. That means another COVID-19 funding fight could soon come down the pike as well.

The shrinking size of the COVID-19 funding is due to a fight over how to pay for the measures. Republican senators have insisted that any new COVID-19 funding be paid for and have resisted any plan for new funding that was not offset.

Read more here.

Medicare recipients get 8 free COVID tests a month

People on Medicare are now able to get up to eight free COVID-19 tests per month at participating pharmacies, the Biden administration announced Monday.

The move comes after a similar initiative launched in January for people with private insurance, in response to the surge in demand for testing due to the surge in cases from the omicron variant over the winter.

But people on Medicare were initially left out, leading to a push to figure out a way for tests to be free for them as well, especially given that seniors are among the groups most vulnerable to the virus.

The new program goes into effect Monday. People on Medicare, including Medicare Advantage plans, will simply have to show their Medicare card at a participating pharmacy, and they can get the tests for free, with the pharmacy billing Medicare directly.

Participating pharmacies include CVS, Walgreens, Walmart, Rite Aid and many major grocery chains. The full list is available here.

The system for people on Medicare has fewer hurdles than people with private insurance face. Those with private insurance often have to pay upfront for their tests and then seek reimbursement from their insurer — a cumbersome process.

Read more here.

SORE THROAT, FATIGUE ADDED TO OFFICIAL NHS COVID SYMPTOMS LIST

The United Kingdom’s National Health Service (NHS) updated its COVID-19 advice this week, adding nine new official symptoms of the virus, including sore throat, headache and fatigue.

The news comes as infection rates have been steadily rising in the United Kingdom (UK) and as the government winds down its free COVID-19 testing program. Only people deemed to be at serious risk of illness qualify for free tests starting this month.

In the US, the World Health Organization and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention have already relied on the longer list of symptoms, but the UK body has listed just three symptoms for the past two years of the pandemic: high temperature, continuous cough, and loss of smell or taste.

British health experts have praised the latest move to expand the symptoms list after criticizing the shorter list in the past.

“We’ve been sharing the wider symptoms of COVID for almost 2 years because we were following the science, provided by the amazing ZOE contributors!” Tim Spector, lead scientist of the independent ZOE project, said on Twitter.

Read more here.

Advocates sound abortion rights alarm ahead of midterms

Progressives and advocates are sounding the alarm about strict abortion bans across the country and want Democrats to make abortion a major issue ahead of the midterm elections.

Inspired by Texas, red states are moving rapidly to restrict abortion access. Arizona and Kentucky voted to approve a 15-week abortion ban. Idaho recently banned abortion after about six weeks of pregnancy and allowed private citizens to sue abortion providers. Oklahoma is on the verge of passing a near-total ban on abortions.

Looming over it all is the Supreme Court, which is expected to rule this summer on a case that could roll back the legal protections in Roe v. Wade, the landmark case that established the right to an abortion.

Abortion rights advocates said Democrats need to unify and drive home the message that if the constitutional right to an abortion ends, Republicans will be responsible.

“The stakes have never been higher. The impact has never been clearer,” said Jenny Lawson, National Campaign Director at Planned Parenthood Federation of America. “It is hitting people in a very real way right now and it will continue to do so as the Supreme Court makes this decision.”

And unless Democrats treat the erosion of abortion rights like a crisis, advocates said, they risk letting Republicans control the narrative.

Read more here.

WHAT WE’RE READING

  • NIH’s cancer chief, Ned Sharpless, to step down (Stat)
  • CDC, under fire for covid response, announces plans to revamp agency (Washington Post)
  • Covid and Diabetes, Colliding in a Public Health Train Wreck (New York Times)

STATE BY STATE

  • Could more Texans be traveling now than before the pandemic as COVID numbers fall to all-time low? (KXAN)
  • COVID Cases Rising in Mass. Could It Signal Another Surge? (NBC Boston)
  • States are ready to live with Covid. Congress’ funding fight is making that hard. (Politico)

OP-EDS IN THE HILL

The brutality and absurdity of China’s zero-COVID policy

That’s it for today, thanks for reading. Check out The Hill’s health care page for the latest news and coverage. See you Tuesday.

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