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House Democrats propose multibillion-dollar COVID-19 relief health package

House Democrats propose multibillion-dollar COVID-19 relief health package
© Bonnie Cash

House Democrats proposed a multibillion-dollar COVID-19 relief bill that would boost investments in public health, vaccines, testing and health care services for the poor.

The proposal from the Energy and Commerce Committee, which has broad jurisdiction over health care, largely mirrors portions of the framework for a COVID-19 relief package and other proposals released by President BidenJoe Biden Pence said he's 'proud' Congress certified Biden's win on Jan. 6 Americans put the most trust in their doctor for COVID-19 information: poll US to give Afghanistan 3M doses of J&J vaccine MORE, with more funding for the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and expansion of Medicaid to more groups of people.

“As new variants of the virus emerge, it is vital that Congress act quickly to provide relief to the American people and the resources and support needed to bring an end to the COVID-19 pandemic,” said Chairman Frank Pallone Jr. (D-N.J.).

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The proposal, which the committee will mark up on Thursday, includes $7.5 billion in funding for the CDC for COVID-19 vaccine distribution, promotion, administration and monitoring.

The funding could be used to support state and local public health departments, community vaccination centers, mobile vaccination units, IT improvements and public communications about the vaccine, according to the committee.

The CDC would also get another $1 billion to improve COVID-19 vaccination rates through programs that provide information and education to the public and dispel concerns about the vaccine.

The Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) would get $5.2 billion to support the research, development, manufacturing, production and purchase of vaccines, treatments or other medical products used to treat or prevent COVID-19.

Testing

HHS would also receive $46 billion to implement a national testing and contract tracing strategy and support those efforts at state and local levels.

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The funding could also be used to support community-based testing sites and the development, manufacturing and distribution of tests, protective equipment like masks and gloves and other supplies needed for COVID-19 testing.

Another $1.8 billion would go to purchase and distribute COVID-19 tests, vaccines and supplies to congregate settings like jails and nursing homes, which have become hot spots for the spread of the virus.

The CDC would get another $1.75 billion, which could be sent to state and local health departments, to track the virus and any potential variants.

Experts have said the CDC and state and local health departments are severely lacking in their ability to track mutations of the virus as more contagious variants start spreading in the U.S.

The Indian Health Service would get more than $6 billion, to be used for lost revenue, telehealth, vaccines, testing and other activities.

Public health

The proposal includes a substantial, multibillion-dollar investment in public health, which experts say has been underfunded for years and crippled the U.S.'s ability to respond quickly to COVID-19 and other threats.

Another $7.5 billion would go to HHS for the public health workforce and grants to state and local health departments to hire more staff, including contacting tracers, community health workers, nurses and epidemiologists.

Community health centers, which serve low-income patients and underserved communities, would receive $7.6 billion for vaccination, testing, contact tracing and treatment efforts.

The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration would receive $3.5 billion for grant programs responding to substance abuse prevention, treatment and mental health issues.

Health coverage

The bill would incentivize states to expand Medicaid to more groups of people, including postpartum women, prisoners 30 days before release and more low-income adults.

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Medicaid, the health insurance program for the poor, is jointly funded by states and the federal government.

While ObamaCare allowed states to expand Medicaid coverage to low-income adults, 12 states have not done so, including Texas, Georgia and Florida. The bill would offer more funding to those states as an incentive to expand Medicaid, which would cover millions of people who don’t have health insurance.

The proposal would also allow states to expand Medicaid coverage to people for 12 months after birth, a policy experts have said could help curb maternal mortality rates.

The bill would also incentivize states to provide more services through their Medicaid programs, including crisis intervention services in which people experiencing mental health or substance use disorder issues are visited at their homes or community sites.

Medicaid and the Children’s Health Insurance Program would also have to cover COVID-19 vaccines and treatment without cost-sharing for patients, with extra costs being paid by the federal government.

The bill would also allow states to bill Medicaid for COVID-19 vaccines and treatment for people without health insurance.

The proposal would provide a $50 million funding increase to the Title X Family Planning Program, which funds providers offering birth control and other services to low-income people.