The Health and Human Services Department is purchasing 60,000 COVID-19 monoclonal antibody treatment doses as federal funding runs dry, the department announced Friday.
The initiative will give uninsured and underinsured Americans no-cost access to bebtelovimab, a monoclonal antibody treatment that reached the commercial market last month. HHS will resupply the drug at no cost to providers that use it to treat patients who lack adequate health coverage. HHS estimates these supplies will last until next September. Medicare, Medicaid and most private health insurance plans cover monoclonal antibody treatment.
The COVID-19 Uninsured Program, which reimbursed providers at Medicare rates for treating patients without health coverage, stopped accepting claims in March after Congress failed to approve additional funding. The federal government previously provided 750,000 bebtelovimab doses to states and territories at no cost.
During the pandemic, COVID-19 vaccines, tests and treatments were made available at no cost but federal support has wound down. Without more federal money, these costs will fall on insurers, providers and patients, even as health officials warn of a potential increase in infections this fall. Last week, roughly 54,000 U.S. residents were diagnosed with the virus and 3,970 were hospitalized, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Treatments such as bebtelovimab can prevent hospitalizations and deaths.
“While the federal government has always expected that bebtelovimab and other COVID-19 therapeutics would ultimately transition to the commercial market, the timeline to make the transition for bebtelovimab has accelerated without additional funding from Congress,” an HHS news release said.
President Joe Biden and congressional Democrats continue to seek further COVID-19 relief funding. The White House asked Congress for an additional $22 billion for COVID-19 testing, research and therapeutics this month.