Note to readers: This post is going to be unlike any other blog post I’ve ever done, in that this is going to be written like a letter, namely, an open letter to Congress. I hope this open letter will inspire others who care about the issue I am writing about to think about this further, and perhaps write letters to their own congressional representatives about the issue I write on here.
Additionally, I will add that there are reports that Congress has agreed to a deal on this. To my knowledge, the deal hasn’t passed yet so I decided to still publish tonight’s post.
Over two years into the COVID-19 pandemic, it may be tempting to throw in the towel and say that the pandemic is over, endemic, or not a big deal. But not one of those three things is a reality yet. As of the time I’m writing this, the pandemic is still taking the lives of over 600 Americans a day, meaning that we are losing thousands a week to this virus. I remember when America grieved over 1,000 troops and then 2,000 troops lost in the Iraq War. We are losing that number of Americans to the pandemic every 2-3 days.
Worse yet, there are parts of the United States, including where I live in New York City, where the BA.2 subvariant of the Omicron variant is spreading.
During a time like this, a time when we may need to prepare for another wave of this pandemic (regrettably, as I’m tired of the pandemic too), we should be doubling down on three basic public health measures we’ve been pushing for many months: testing, tracing, and vaccinating.
And yet, because of your inability to do your jobs as public servants—serving the public, first and foremost—you have put this into doubt for uninsured Americans.
Also, just on a semi-random tangent: the fact that the phrase “uninsured Americans” exists is an indictment on Congress’s ability to give even the most basic of safety nets to people who might not otherwise have a safety net. That’s before we even start talking about all the Americans who are underinsured, as well as Americans with insurance companies that lack any sort of generosity or compassion with the benefits they give out.
Because you failed to do your jobs, COVID tests for uninsured patients are no longer free, even if they have COVID symptoms. How can people test or trace when they struggle to pay out of pocket for health care? Millions of Americans don’t have the money to make such a choice, and as a result have to resort to rapid tests that aren’t quite as accurate but still require a certain amount of money to buy them. Because of your inability to do your jobs, the public health strategy of testing and tracing has been put in danger in at least some parts of the United States.
Then there is the free funding for vaccines for those who are uninsured. Funding is supposed to run out for that this week. By not ensuring funding for this, especially at a time when we are urging people to get boosted and others fifty and older to get their second boosters, Congress is essentially taking an anti-vaxxer posture, or at least an anti-vaxxer posture for the uninsured. Let us be clear—not ensuring funding for COVID vaccines for the uninsured is an anti-vax policy, period.
And then there are all the other things in danger as a result of your irresponsibility: the curtailing of a relief fund that has allowed hospitals to treat uninsured COVID patients, the potential running out of monoclonal antibodies by June, and more.
I read that Republicans in Congress want “a more detailed accounting of where previous COVID-19 funding has gone.” One can debate over whether there is a need for this detailed accounting, but regardless, said accounting should not keep those who are uninsured from access to things like vaccines and tests. However, one detailed accounting we really need is how we are going to prevent people from dying when we are pursuing a strategy of cutting off funding for things that help people live.
We need funding for COVID treatment, and we needed it last week. Congress needs to act.
Grumpy from New York City