WATCH: White House COVID task force holds news briefing

The White House Covid task force will hold a news briefing on Wednesday as the delta variant continues to spread in the United States and the threat of the omicron variant looms.

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U.S. health care spending rocketed to $4.1 trillion last year as Congress opened the spigot of federal dollars to battle the coronavirus pandemic across multiple fronts.

A government report out Wednesday said national health spending jumped by 9.7 percent in 2020, more than double the usual growth rate, with health care accounting for nearly $1 of every $5 in the economy. The federal government share of health spending increased by 36 percent.

In a twist, that growth was driven not so much by care devoted to patients, but by federal subsidies to keep hospitals and medical providers solvent; funding to develop and deploy COVID tests, vaccines, treatments and countermeasures; and assistance to state Medicaid programs facing a potential wave of uninsured people in a public health crisis.

“The story that unfolded in 2020 and continues today is unlike anything that has happened in the past 100 years,” said the report by number crunchers at the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services. Published online by the journal Health Affairs, the report is an annual yardstick measuring health care’s impact across the economy.

Last year, as elective surgeries got canceled and telehealth replaced office visits, Congress overwhelmingly approved bipartisan measures that pumped out tens of billions of dollars to keep the private health care system from collapsing.

Along with direct federal spending on COVID countermeasures and the Medicaid money for states, the strategy largely worked, said economist Douglas Holtz-Eakin, a former director of the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office and longtime policy adviser to Republicans.

“The COVID cases precluded the hospitals from having their usual book of business,” said Holtz-Eakin. “The bailout money from the federal government was really important when the other sources just dried up.” A $122 billion Provider Relief Fund, through which hospitals could apply for taxpayer money to offset their losses, was the linchpin.

“When I look at 2020, it wasn’t perfect, but I think Congress deserves high marks for what they got done,” added Holtz-Eakin.

The $4.1 trillion tab for 2020 represents an increase of about $365 billion from national health spending in 2019. It works out to $12,530 per person.