Save your receipts! Biden’s plan for free and easy over-the-counter COVID-19 testing may not be so simple

President Joe Biden wants to make COVID-19 home testing kits widely available this winter as the omicron variant emerges in the reopening economy.

“The bottom line: This winter, you’ll be able to test for free in the comfort of your home and have some peace of mind,” Biden said. say Thursday, disclosure a plan that also includes tighter screening timelines for international travelers entering the country.

The president said health insurance companies will cover the cost of home testing for those with a plan. The government will distribute the tests to medical centers and clinics so that those without private insurance can also receive them, he added.

But there are still open questions about how the scheme will play out, public health experts said. Will the customer have to pay for the test kit first and get a refund afterwards? Or can they walk out of the pharmacy, with a test kit in hand, without opening their wallet?

Prices for home test kits typically range from $7 per test (or $14 for two) to $38.99 per test, based on KFF, a non-profit organization that researches national health issues. Paying for these tests on a regular basis can be prohibitively expensive for many, even if the test refunds come later.

KFF reports: “If a consumer wants to test regularly, even the least expensive test ($14 for two tests) used twice a week adds up to $728 per year. , assuming they can get tests with this count.

Eric Schneider, an MD and senior vice president of policy and research at The Commonwealth Fund, said: “The reality is expensive that will hurt the effectiveness of the Biden plan,” said at-tests at homes are widely available for free or at low cost in other countries, such as the UK.

Even if companies roll out 300 million test kits per month, less than one test per person per month in the US

Money aside, are there enough at-home testing kits available at a time of supply chain strain? The KFF notes that even if companies deliver 300 million test kits per month, that’s less than one test kit per month per person in the US.

“The devil is in the details. We need to understand how this is going to happen,” said Carlos del Rio, professor of infectious diseases at Emory University School of Medicine. “Like everything we do. I work in healthcare in the US, we make it complicated,” said del Rio, an MD and executive vice president of the Emory School of Medicine at Grady Health System.

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According to Lindsey Dawson, a deputy director at the KFF, Biden administration officials often refer to “chargebacks,” so it seems likely that consumers will have to shoulder the costs upfront. Like del Rio, she’s waiting to hear more.

“To the extent that consumers have to collect dollars from insurance companies, this will require the consumer to have some legit work,” she said. They’ll have to know there’s a chance for a refund, save a receipt, determine their insurer’s reimbursement process “and of course, potentially pay the cost upfront.”

On Friday, the White House COVID-19 Response Coordinator, Jeff Zient, confirmed that Americans will have to keep their receipts when it comes to this part of the plan.

“More than 150 million Americans with private health insurance will be able to submit receipts for at-home testing directly to their health plans, so they can go to their local pharmacy, order online and then get a refund,” he said, adding that free tests for those without private insurance will be available from this month.

White House press secretary Jen Psaki said on Thursday there would be more specifics about Biden’s plans, but that might not happen until next month.

“We expect to have final rules on this and this should be rolled out mid-January, so I expect additional details on how it will work and how it will function. will be rolled out in that timeline,” she said. Officials at the Departments of Health and Human Services and Department of the Treasury still need to write initiative rules, Psaki noted.

Representatives for both departments did not immediately respond to requests for comment.

Does insurance currently cover COVID-19 home tests?

“Previously, private insurance companies were not required to cover home exams,” says Dawson. A senior Biden administration official said the new initiative would not apply back to tests that consumers paid for during Wednesday’s news conference.

Medically necessary COVID-19 testing is fully covered by insurance. So the exception to home tests is, at least in the past, “when testing is ordered by a health care provider who has determined that the test is appropriate.” medically,” according to Center for Medicare & Medicaid Services. This also applies to people receiving Medicaid, Dawson noted.

Now it remains to be seen what the new rules will do – and how insurers will handle what happens next.

For example, employees who refuse to be vaccinated even when theoretically required by their workplace, must bear the cost of their own testing, because businesses do not have to pay periodic inspection costs of employees, under the Occupational Safety and Health Administration’s controversial vaccine authorization rule. The rule was supposed to go into effect in January but is being put on hold while it is being challenged by a consolidated group of lawsuits in the United States Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit.

Dawson said that the plans to expand home testing are unlikely to change workplace screening requirements.

But when will an unvaccinated person be tested at home for their regular life, and when will compliance be at work – and potentially at a cost to them? That could be for insurers to determine, Dawson said.

“Over-the-counter, at-home diagnostic tests are an important tool to identify COVID infections and limit the spread of the virus,” said David Allen, a spokesman for the American Chamber of Commerce. “As we continue our work with the administration in the fight against COVID-19, we will ensure that the full impact of these actions on hard-working patients, consumers and families is understand.”

The impacts, Allen continued, “include ensuring that everyone has access to affordable diagnostic testing during a public health emergency, that price gouging does not spread to OTC tests, that consumers are protected from higher premiums, and that clear rules and guidelines allow these efforts to be effectively implemented.”

Are there enough at-home COVID-19 testing kits?

The White House says the country now has four times as many tests by the end of the summer. The supply seems to have improved, says Schneider. However, he added, “I don’t think manufacturers are producing the millions of tests that you need for widespread use.”

If everyone 11 and older were tested twice a week, the country would need 2.3 billion tests monthly, the KFF researchers said. If half of the country were to test once a week, the country would need 600 million tests monthly, the researchers say.

With demand growing, “capacity has become one of the biggest issues for manufacturers,” said John Pecaric, president of RRD.
+ 0.94%

Business Services and Marketing Solutions.

Pecaric’s portfolio includes RRD Supply Chain Solutions, which help COVID-19 test kit manufacturers assemble and distribute. The business unit has seen many companies that make test kits turn to them for help.

“Supply chains have become even more complex than usual for companies that manage their own assembly of in-house toolkits,” he said. “Delays in freight and labor shortages are exacerbating the complexity of conventional supply chains, and fixed costs can be high, which makes partnering with a single supplier.” can easily scale up and down which is very attractive.”

Abbott Laboratories Spokesperson
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maker of BinaxNOW, an over-the-counter COVID-19 test that sells for $23.99 at CVS
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said the company was up for the challenge.

Demand for the test kit “is very strong because it is the most widely studied and used rapid antigen test in the United States, which is why Abbott expanded production over the summer and is now making more than 50 million tests per month.” The company is working with retailers, schools, universities, employers and public health officials “to make sure tests get to where they need it most,” he said.

Quidel Corporation
+ 0.99%
maker of the OTC QuickVue COVID-19 Home Test ($23.99 at CVS), says its employees are “working tirelessly to increase our production capacity to a running speed of 70 million items.” test each month at the end of the year to provide the community with access to affordable COVID-19 testing. Those manufacturing efforts also include completing a 12-month contract with the federal government for 100 million QuickVue tests, the company noted.

Like other aspects of Biden’s plan, Dawson questioned whether manufacturers of home testing have enough supply to meet consumer demand. “We’ll have to wait and see,” she said. Save your receipts! Biden’s plan for free and easy over-the-counter COVID-19 testing may not be so simple


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