Now that the nation seems to be past the most dangerous variants of the COVID-19 virus, the federal government is making available up to four rapid antigen at-home COVID-19 tests for every U.S. household at no cost.
Households can get access to the tests through the mail, at a local pharmacy, or at one of at least 20,000 free testing sites, states the website COVIDtests.gov. The Biden Administration has ordered private insurers and group health plans to cover up to 32 rapid tests each month for a family of four. Government insurance programs such as Medicare and Medicaid are exempt from the order.
President Biden has promised to make up to one billion tests available for distribution. Congress has set aside $53 billion for COVID-19 testing, of which $29 billion is unspent.
’Parallel Distribution Chain’
The rollout’s success and its impact on stopping the coronavirus are not exactly clear, says Doug Badger, a senior fellow at the Galen Institute and the Heritage Foundation.
“We have insurance mandates and the U.S. mail, what could go wrong?” said Badger. One concern is what impact the government’s stockpiling of the tests will have on the supply chain, says Badger.
“If the government plans to mail out one billion tests, what does that do to the supply at your local Walgreens? Already, the tests are in short supply,” said Badger. “I don’t think this parallel distribution chain is going to be the best way to do it.”
Demand Could Outstrip Supply
Additionally, some 200 million people receive health insurance through private plans, meaning they could request up to 6.4 billion tests per month, says Badger.
“Obviously, if everyone were to use this benefit, you would never be able to get any of these tests,” said Badger.
Private insurance enrollees will buy the test and seek reimbursement from their insurers. Some insurers may have arrangements with certain drugstores. In any case, reimbursements will be limited to $12 a test; so if a shortage occurs, as with any product in short supply, tests could cost enrollees far more money.