WASHINGTON (Reuters) – President Joe Biden’s administration may request additional funds from Congress for COVID-19 testing, depending on the severity of the Omicron variant, U.S. Secretary of Health and Human Services Xavier Becerra said on Tuesday.
The department has $10 billion left in federal relief funds for testing from the $50 billion made available by Congress back in March, but might need more, Becerra said at a meeting with reporters.
“Are we going to have more than $10 billion worth of needs and costs? (With) COVID, especially regarding testing, there’s a strong chance we will, depending on, again, where Omicron takes us,” he said.
Becerra said eventual need would depend on the impact of Omicron.
“If we have Omicron the way we have Delta? You can sort of see where this goes. The president said we’ve got to just stay ahead of this. So we don’t want to be asking Congress for money after we know we need it,” he said.
“How do you telegraph something like that? When you don’t yet know what Omicron does? But our folks are trying to crunch that, we’re trying to make all these different projections right now.”
As part of Biden’s strategy to fight the Omicron and Delta variants over the winter, the government is requiring private health insurers to reimburse their 150 million customers for the cost of over-the-counter and at-home COVID-19 tests starting in January. The government will not reimburse the insurers, a White House official said.
The United States will purchase more antiviral treatments in the coming months to address the spread of Omicron, Becerra said, adding that details will be announced soon.
“In terms of therapeutics … we are beefing up,” he said. “We’re trying to see what Omicron does in terms of these different therapeutics and what could work, and we are ginning up, we’re preparing. Stay tuned for announcements on where we will go, and it’s all being dialed as we speak.”
(Reporting by Ahmed Aboulenein in Washington; Editing by Matthew Lewis and Rosalba O’Brien)