COVID-19 treatments popular in red states are becoming harder to obtain, leading some governors and lawmakers to accuse the Biden administration of rationing healthcare.
"People are going to die" because the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) is rationing the distribution of Regeneron's monoclonal antibody treatment to states including Texas, Republican Rep. Brian Babin, a member of the GOP Doctors Caucus, said on the John Solomon Reports podcast.
"This is a federal takeover, and really seemingly punishing six conservative Republican red states" that have successfully treated COVID patients while resisting the president's mandates, said Babin, a longtime dentist who represents parts of Houston. Texas and other states "are being cut 30 to 50%," he claimed.
"It just goes without saying that this Biden administration doesn't care," said Babin, adding that "they flip-flop routinely" on vaccine mandates and lockdowns. Referring to Dr. Anthony Fauci, he said "the only thing you know that's always certain about this man is that he's uncertain."
Texas Rep. Chip Roy said a meeting with HHS left him with "more questions than answers" about the "throttling" of supply. Officials, he complained, gave him "crickets" when he asked twice for data on supply and manufacturing capacity compared to demand, and they offered "no clear evidence [of a] current shortage," the Republican tweeted Saturday.
It's not just conservative Republicans. Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan, a centrist whose state has a high vaccination rate, demanded answers from the White House for the "sudden rationing of these life-saving treatments, without any warning, after the administration urged us to promote them," the Washington Examiner reported.
Montgomery County (Texas) Judge Mark Keough made the same accusation in a Sept. 14 Facebook post after learning his local treatment center would be throttled.
"The manufacturer has confirmed supplies are ample but due to the Defense Production Act, the White House and [its] agencies are the only entities who can purchase and distribute" what Keough called "a non-controversial and highly successful treatment."
He questioned the timing of the change, less than a week after President Biden blamed unvaccinated Americans for his decision to mandate COVID vaccines for 100 million Americans.
Republican Sen. Rand Paul, who was falsely accused of losing his medical license and punished by YouTube for citing research on cloth masks and COVID, sounded the alarm last week over a related federal policy change.
"The IV monoclonal antibodies are very effective at reducing your hospitalization," but because the government purchased all the treatments, "they're telling the hospitals that you won't be covered if you give anybody this treatment in the hospital," Paul said on the JSR podcast.
According to the National Institutes of Health, the drugs are for "non-hospitalized patients with mild to moderate COVID-19" and are "not currently authorized for use in patients who are hospitalized with severe COVID-19."
'Going to fight like hell'
HHS blamed parts of the country with low vaccination rates for a "substantial surge" in utilization of so-called mAbs amid the Delta variant's spread, justifying its decision last week to scrap the "direct ordering process" states had been using.
Under the new "state/territory-coordinated distribution system," HHS will determine "the weekly amount of mAb products each state and territory receives based on COVID-19 case burden and mAb utilization."
The agency told CNN that seven states — Florida, Texas, Mississippi, Tennessee, Alabama, Georgia and Louisiana — accounted for 70% of orders under the old process.
The Tennessee Department of Health said that "if" mAb providers and individual facilities "need to prioritize distribution of the treatment," they should prioritize "those who are most likely to be hospitalized" based on the providers' clinical judgment. This was widely misreported as Tennessee saying it would deny mAbs to vaccinated people.
Like Maryland's Hogan, Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis accused President Biden of a bait-and-switch by promising to ramp up shipments by 50% then cutting Florida's supply by 50%. (According to the Houston Chronicle, Florida is still getting the most doses among the states, followed by Texas.)
DeSantis had been "crisscrossing the state" promoting the treatment, which was newly available without a doctor's referral in pop-up clinics around Florida, according to the Sun-Sentinel.
"So we're going to fight like hell to make sure that our folks get what they need," DeSantis said in a press conference. He'll negotiate for a different mAb product from GlaxoSmithKline, which unlike Regeneron doesn't have a "direct purchase agreement" with the feds, DeSantis said.
The governor's mention of alternative drugs shows why the rationing characterization is inaccurate, according to a longtime healthcare policy analyst for the Heritage Foundation.
"This is really about supply and demand," Ed Haislmaier said in a phone interview. Governments, including the U.S., pre-ordered vaccines and had "quite sufficient" supplies to distribute through the spring, but there was no process like Operation Warp Speed for monoclonal antibodies.
Everyone is talking about a single contract — the U.S. purchase from Regeneron — and it's unlikely the feds will try to commandeer all monoclonal antibody drugs because "we didn't corner the market on the Pfizer vaccine," he said.
HHS is simply "changing how they distribute what they have already purchased from the manufacturer," which started as a "take what you need" policy, according to Haislmaier.
The rationing allegations recall the "Harry and Louise" ad campaign that helped kill President Clinton's government-run healthcare plan in his first term by tying it to rationing. The fictional couple popped up 15 years later in a pro-Obamacare ad.
The original ad campaign was funded by what is now known as America's Health Insurance Plans, which didn't respond to a query on how Harry and Louise would have viewed the new HHS policy. One of its creators, Ben Goddard, passed away in 2018, and Just the News couldn't find contact information for the other, Rick Claussen.