Republicans push for greater access to COVID therapeutics

Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, introduces legislation to prohibit federal government from limiting state access to monoclonal antibody treatments.

Updated: January 20, 2022 - 12:05am

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Republicans are pushing for greater access to monoclonal antibody treatments for COVID-19 after the federal government took over the distribution of such drugs last year.

U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, filed Senate Bill 3440 to prohibit the federal government from limiting state access to monoclonal antibody treatments.

“One of the things we've learned during this pandemic is that monoclonal antibodies can have a very effective therapeutic effect in combatting COVID-19 infections," Cruz said in a statement. "The Biden administration responded to these encouraging results by rationing and limiting the ability of people to access monoclonal antibodies and stopping states like my home state of Texas from ordering the treatments directly. This federal takeover is an abuse of power that denies people lifesaving medication."

The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services’ Office of the Assistant Secretary for Preparedness and Response announced an update to the distribution of such therapeutic treatments on Sept. 3, 2021, as demand increased. Ten days later, the Assistant Secretary for Preparedness and Response said the agency was taking control of the supply of some monoclonal antibody treatments and it would provide weekly distributions for U.S. states and territories. Before that, state and health care facilities were able to order directly from AmerisourceBergen, the distributor, without limits.

Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, a Republican, also has been critical of the federal government's policies regarding monoclonal antibodies after the state made such treatments a priority.

“Prior to the federal government takeover of the monoclonal market, Florida successfully distributed approximately 30,000 doses per week when we managed our own supply,” DeSantis said in a statement. “The state has more than $800 million available to quickly deploy monoclonal antibody treatments throughout the state, and the only thing holding us back is the insufficient supply of treatment from the federal government."

Cruz's bill would also allow states to use federal COVID-19 relief funds to buy monoclonal antibody treatments.

A similar bill, introduced last summer, has gained 23 co-sponsors in the U.S. House.

In September 2021, Florida’s U.S. Sens. Marco Rubio and Rick Scott said the Biden administration’s actions were “vindictive, politically motivated.” They also said the Department of Health and Human Services had no business rationing supply of monoclonal antibody treatments to places where demand is high.

Rubio and Scott joined fellow Republican Sens. Roger Marshall, Kansas; Kevin Cramer North Dakota; Marsha Blackburn, Tennessee; Mike Braun, Indiana; and Tommy Tuberville, Alabama; in introducing the Treatment Restoration for Emergency Antibody Therapeutics (TREAT) Act. The proposed Treat Act, would prohibit the DHHS from restricting hospitals and other healthcare providers from ordering monoclonal antibody treatments directly from manufacturers to meet local demand.

The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services didn't immediately respond to a request for comment on Wednesday.

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