HOUSTON - Federal funding for free COVID-19 testing and treatments is running out. That's raising concerns about people, particularly the uninsured, suffering or spreading the disease.
A bipartisan deal to inject $10 billion into COVID-19 relief operations has stalled in Congress. Throughout the pandemic, free access to COVID-19 testing, including for the uninsured, has helped reduce the spread.
"There’s no new money. So the money the administration had at its disposal to reimburse providers and to buy products is drying up," said Dr. Jennifer Kates, Senior Vice President and Director of Global Health & HIV Policy at the Kaiser Family Foundation.
Many uninsured households may not be able to pay the $100 to several hundred dollar cost of COVID-19 testing. That's raising concerns about the virus spreading, as the CDC reports daily new cases increased nearly 5% over the last week, and Shanghai has reentered a lockdown after its largest surge in two years.
"Those who don’t have insurance, are lower-income, people of color, who face historical barriers accessing healthcare and other services, have also faced barriers with COVID," said Kates.
"We continue to be concerned for those who remain unvaccinated, we know the vaccine saves lives, and also it can prevent severe illness," said Porfirio Villareal, spokesperson for the Houston Health Department.
Federal funding for vaccines will continue, but the federal government will no longer pay to administer the shots. Federal reimbursements to hospitals and clinics for treating uninsured COVID-19 patients have stopped.
"That means for everybody, we are potentially running up into a situation where you need treatment and can’t get it," said Kates. "If you are uninsured and can get it, you might have to pay for it."
The uninsured can still find free Covid testing and vaccinations at the Houston Health Department, Harris County Public Health, Nomi Health sites, and some pharmacies.
"The Houston Health Department will continue offering the free shot and free testing to anyone who is not insured," said Porfirio.
Anyone can also order free home test kits through the federal government.
If you're not feeling well, health experts offer tips to determine whether you may have COVID-19 or are suffering from the peak of allergy season.
Allergy symptoms include watery, itchy eyes, coughing, and a runny nose.
"But with COVID, you know you’re going to have a fever, chills, muscle pain. You’re in your bed or on your sofa. Also, loss of taste and loss of smell," said Villareal.
For allergy sufferers, Porfirio suggests staying indoors, keeping the windows up while driving, showering after being outside to wash off pollen, and keeping pets indoors until the high pollen season passes in a couple of weeks.