Fighting COVID-19 has included the distribution of trillions of dollars to states, counties, and municipal governments, and federal funds have provided free testing, vaccines, and treatment intervention. The infusion of government money has benefited the nation, specifically rural and urban communities, communities of color, essential workers, low-income families, immigrants, the elderly, and the uninsured or underinsured. However, federal funds will soon dry up, and so will access to free vaccines, testing, and treatment modes.
The Biden Administration has sought additional COVID-19 funds to restock the quickly diminishing supplies of vaccines, tests, and treatments, but Congress has yet to act on the administration’s request. Without these funds, free or reimbursable COVID testing options, vaccines and treatment interventions will end. This shift should raise the alarm bells throughout the country, in communities of color, under-resourced communities, local officials, and elected leaders. Public officials must address the potential loss of these vital public health funds and resources with forward-thinking actions, including continued funding. Failing to take this action rekindles the historic health marginalization and public health disparities in vulnerable communities.
The state’s Latinx community is now 18% of the population and was among the hardest hit by the pandemic. Adding to this situation is another health and wellness gap: Many Latinx individuals and families are uninsured or underinsured. Census data puts the state’s overall uninsured population at 7%; this figure stands at 15% for the Latino population. However, community leaders and health and policy analysts speculate a much higher figure. The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services notes, “It is significant to note that Hispanics have the highest uninsured rates of any racial or ethnic group within the United States.”
Ending access to COVID-19 resources that halt the spread of the pandemic, protect the public, and enable testing and vaccination has other troubling ramifications for the Latinx community. In addition, the alarming levels of asthma, diabetes, and other chronic illnesses in the Latinx community along with the rising costs of medications, already tax the economic resources and fray the mental and emotional state of many families. Ending public health access to testing, vaccinations, and follow-up care places care, protection and relief from COVID-19 in the hands of insurers and vaccine manufacturers:
- insurers will not have to reimburse consumers for at-home COVID tests;
- PCR testing may require a physician’s order or prescription, and
- the insurance industry and private manufacturers will be able to determine prices.
In early January, the country’s public health emergency declaration will end. Yet, COVID-19 remains a public health crisis, with deaths and hospitalizations continuing. With the predicted levels of influenza and respiratory illnesses this winter, protecting the public must remain a national priority. Illinois Unidos will continue to advocate for the continuation of accessible and affordable life-saving resources to prevent a resurgence of COVID-19 in the Latinx community and other vulnerable populations.