Biden admin announces 500 million ‘free’ COVID tests, but critics see major problems

In response to the burdensome testing requirements that businesses and schools have laid upon the American people, the Biden administration has ordered private insurance companies to pay for eight at-home COVID-19 tests per month for everyone, beginning January 15.

The 500 million tests that President Biden has assured that the government will purchase are expected to be available later this month. Except that there is a shortage of home tests, and it is unclear when that will change.

Last week, White House press secretary Jen Psaki had nothing more than vague answers to questions about the timeline: “The first delivery from manufacturers will start later this month — that’s our expectation,” Psaki told reporters. “When we have those deliveries in hand, we will put the website up, make it available, so that people can order tests at that point in time.”

The OTC tests will be available to those covered by insurance at their carrier’s “preferred” retailers for no out-of-pocket costs; tests purchased elsewhere will be eligible for reimbursement.

“Beginning January 15, 2022, individuals with private health insurance coverage or covered by a group health plan who purchase an over-the-counter COVID-19 diagnostic test authorized, cleared, or approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) will be able to have those test costs covered by their plan or insurance,” the administration said in a press release Monday.

“Insurance companies and health plans are required to cover 8 free over-the-counter at-home tests per covered individual per month. That means a family of four, all on the same plan, would be able to get up to 32 of these tests covered by their health plan per month,” it continued, adding that there is no limit on the number of tests.

The Biden administration also has a plan in place to make tens of millions of free tests available for uninsured Americans at health clinics and other sites in underserved communities.

While it all sounds good, the lack of actual testing kits is concerning to many involved in the rollout.

“If reimbursement exists but there aren’t tests to purchase,” Lindsey Dawson, a policy analyst at the Kaiser Family Foundation, said, “that doesn’t help an individual consumer.”

 “The policy could certainly drive demand, and could exacerbate the problem,” Dawson, who has thoroughly researched the rapid testing issue, added, according to The New York Times.

The insurers are worried, too.

“We are concerned that the policy does not solve for the limited supply of tests in the country and could cause additional consumer friction as insurers stand up a program in just four days’ time,” said Kim Keck, the chief executive of the Blue Cross Blue Shield Association, according to The Times.

Good intentions, unfortunately, cannot solve the problem of limited test availability. The supply chain problem is a real issue for the testing manufacturers; sterile, single-use swabs, for instance, are the preferred method for collecting samples, but supplies have been limited throughout the pandemic. The plastic vials which hold the samples have also been in short supply.

The White House’s stated intentions to ramp up home testing come in direct opposition to its stance just last month. At a December 6 press briefing, Jen Psaki openly mocked the idea of providing free at-home testing to Americans, as other countries had begun to do: “Should we just send one to every American?” Psaki asked. “Then what, then what happens if you, if every American has one test? How much does that cost, and then what happens after that?”

After those statements, unfortunately for the White House, the Omicron variant took hold. In a December 22 interview with David Muir of ABC News, President Biden denied that the administration had failed the American people.

Biden said, “I don’t think it’s a failure. You could argue that we should have known a year ago, six months ago, two months ago, a month ago.” He continued by saying that he did wish that he had thought about ordering 500 million tests “two months ago.”

For the administration’s order to go into effect, the stars will need to align: Home-testing kits will need to become available en masse, insurers will need to get their processes in place to reimburse both retailers and customers while monitoring the per-person limits, and the government will need to get the website set up to handle the influx of requests for the tests that it will be providing free-of-charge.

Based on the results from the Affordable Care Act website rollout, this may take a little longer than the predicted end-of-January timeline.

Some Twitter users question the ability of the administration to follow through on this promise, and others rightfully question the need for so much testing, to begin with:

 

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