Insurers to pay for take-home COVID tests starting Saturday: Biden orders a billion free tests

Published: Jan. 13, 2022 at 6:21 PM CST
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Take-home rapid COVID tests.
Take-home rapid COVID tests.

NEW ORLEANS (WVUE) - President Biden announced that his administration is doubling the amount of free rapid take-home COVID tests it will make available to Americans and on Saturday private insurers will begin covering the costs of such tests. This as pharmacies have a hard time acquiring the tests.

Castellon’s Pharmacy in New Orleans stocked full of items, but owner Terry Langlois says keeping up with demand for the tests is challenging.

“We’re seeing it non-stop, from phones to walk in people we’re probably getting anywhere from 50 to 50 people a day easy calling in or coming in looking for them,” said Langlois.

He said the pharmacy has long ago placed orders for more of the rapid tests.

“There’s just none to be found, we’ve been having them ordered for over three weeks now; we have 1,200 test kits ordered, haven’t seen one come in,” said Langlois.

And he commented on the fact that insurers will have to pay for take-home COVID tests the insured purchase. The White House says insurance companies will have to cover the cost of up to eight tests per month per insured individual.

“A lot of people I’m sure will take advantage of that eight a month maximum and a household of like five will be 40 kits a month for one family. I think it would be great if we can get to that point,” said Langlois.

Charles Stoecker, Ph.D., is a Tulane University health economist. He said having more be able to get tested is a good thing as COVID infection rises.

“Will people need more than eight tests a month? I’m not sure,” said Stoecker.

He said the number of tests a person may need will depend a lot on how much someone interacts with others and concerns about keeping those around them safe.

And Stoecker says he expects insurers to pass on the cost of the tests.

“I must say as a health economist nothing is free, someone is paying for it somewhere. By requiring health insurers to cover the cost of tests with no co-pay that just means that the health insurers are going to fold that price into your premium, so you’ll still be paying for the test,” said Stoecker.

Consumers will not need to meet deductibles to get insurers to pay for the tests.

“Even if you haven’t met your deductible yet you won’t have to pay any money,” said Stoecker.

And President Biden announced on Thursday that the federal government is purchasing 500 million additional take-home COVID tests to bring the total to 1 billion that will be available free to Americans. A website is expected to launch next week, so that people can order the free government-provided rapid tests.

“And you can have the test mailed to you, that’s pretty convenient but it’s not instantaneous,” said Stoecker.

Langlois thinks the free tests will help many people.

“I think it will absolutely help. How long that takes before they actually get to everybody is the question,” he said.

Republican U.S. Sen. Bill Cassidy is a medical doctor and he responded to the president increasing the number of free rapid tests that will be provided.

“I’m glad they’re doing it but they’re a little late. Congress has appropriated billions of dollars to have these tests ready to go but if you go to a pharmacy, you cannot find COVID tests now,” said Cassidy.

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