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HHS Preparing to Hand Off Control of Pricing, Coverage of COVID Shots

August 19, 2022 by Dan McCue
Health and Human Services Secretary Xavier Becerra speaks during a news conference June 28, 2022, in Washington. (AP Photo/Patrick Semansky, File)

WASHINGTON — The Biden administration will reportedly convene a meeting on Aug. 30 with state health officials and executives from the drug and pharmacy industries to lay the groundwork for transferring greater control of pricing and coverage for COVID-19 shots and treatments to the private sector.

The scheduling of the session was first reported by The Wall Street Journal.

The meeting, informally called a planning session, is reportedly being held under the auspices of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. 

The Well News reached out to the department for comment, but had received no response by Friday afternoon.

Like the Trump administration before it, the Biden administration has always planned to end the federal government footing the bill for interventions to prevent and treat COVID-19 cases and transfer it to the health care industry. 

The move would be a concrete sign the world-roiling pandemic has been largely turned back on its heel.

The question though, as the rate of infection ebbed and flowed and new variants emerged, has always been when the transfer of responsibilities to the drug companies and pharmacies and other COVID-19 stakeholders would occur.

With the rate of infection coming sharply down since the spring, and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention relaxing its guidance on prevention, the time to make change seems to have come.

Based on CDC data, the number of new COVID-19 infections in metropolitan counties across the U.S. fell by 12% last week, while in rural counties the number of infections dropped by 5%.

Further, as of Aug. 10, the current seven-day moving average of daily new cases (103,614) decreased 13.8% compared with the previous seven-day moving average (120,151).

Among other things, the transfer of responsibility will mean an inevitable rise in the cost to consumers, who so far have merely had to show up at a vaccination center, roll up a sleeve, and be on their way without making a payment.

The good news on that front is that the process for moving the payments for COVID-19 drugs and vaccines to the commercial marketplace is expected to take months, according to The Wall Street Journal, which cited a source speaking on background.

And there are, of course, many questions that still need to be resolved. These include issues of reimbursement, equitable access to vaccines and treatment and how to make the shots and treatments available to the estimated 30 million people who don’t have insurance coverage.

A total of 223,457,170 Americans had been fully vaccinated against COVID-19, or 67.3% of the country’s population, according to CDC data.

Dan can be reached at dan@thewellnews.com and @DanMcCue

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