AUDIE CORNISH, HOST:
Eight-point-three billion dollars - that's the total amount of emergency coronavirus funding that President Trump signed into law today. But will - what will that money be getting us? NPR's Selena Simmons-Duffin is here to give us the highlights.
Welcome back to the studio.
SELENA SIMMONS-DUFFIN, BYLINE: Hi.
CORNISH: Eight-point-three billion sounds like a lot. How is it helpful here?
SIMMONS-DUFFIN: It really is actually a lot. There are some figures for comparison here - 5.4 billion for the Ebola response in 2014, nearly 7 billion for H1N1 in 2009 - so this is many millions of dollars more than Congress put towards those efforts. One important point - this is quite a turnaround for the Trump administration. Just last week, they requested only 1.25 billion in new funding. They wanted to move money around to get to 2.5 billion, and they defended that figure as members of Congress from both sides of the aisle said, this really seems like a lowball. The president did say last week he was open to more, and that is what he got - 8.3 billion; more than three times that initial ask. Experts I talked to today say it's really remarkable in this political moment that Congress was able to act so quickly to come up with this comprehensive package. No one can really say whether it's enough, but everyone I talked to said it's a really encouraging start.
CORNISH: How is the money supposed to be spent?
SIMMONS-DUFFIN: The biggest pot of money goes to the office of the Secretary of Health and Human Services. That is $3.1 billion, and the money is very flexible. It can be spent on developing treatments and vaccines, buying personal protective equipment like face masks for the Strategic National Stockpile, on community health centers which serve underserved populations. There's 300 million to purchase vaccines and therapeutics when we get them and a provision that those should be fairly priced.
CORNISH: And this is all supposed to move quickly, right?
SIMMONS-DUFFIN: Yeah, so another big pot of money in here - 950 million - will go to the state and local public health response through CDC. And, as you say, half of that has to go - or be allocated in 30 days. That's really, really fast. And what the money will be used for, at this point in the epidemic, is things like health departments staffing up to work 24/7, laboratories buying equipment and paying staff overtime and investments in data to be able to properly do surveillance.
CORNISH: And to be clear, is this all domestic spending? Or is there any money being offered to other countries that are dealing with the outbreak?
SIMMONS-DUFFIN: Yeah, so this is interesting. The Trump White House did not request any funding for an international response. The head of the coronavirus task force and Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar actually told Congress they were focusing on the homeland. But Congress, in this law, did include over a billion dollars for the international response. And that could be used, for instance, to help low- and middle-income countries shore up their resources to be able to contain or mitigate outbreaks. Experts I talked to were really pleased and quite, actually, relieved to see this funding in there.
CORNISH: Any other notable areas that are missing?
SIMMONS-DUFFIN: So one thing that we're starting to hear about are the people who don't have health insurance or are underinsured. That's about 70 million Americans, and nothing in this bill spells out whether any of this money will go to reimburse hospitals or patients for care. So we've seen some announcements this week that tests will be covered by private insurers and Medicaid and Medicare, but there are going to be lots of other expenses. If you're compelled to stay isolated in a hospital for 14 days, for instance, who's going to pay for that? That is not clear. And experts I talked to today said that the way in which this public health crisis collides with our fractured health insurance system is really the next frontier here.
CORNISH: That's NPR's Selena Simmons-Duffin.
Thank you for the update.
SIMMONS-DUFFIN: Thank you.
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