The overall strategy has five parts and stresses the importance of vaccinations, boosters, and tests. Biden is ultimately hoping to avoid more lockdowns and shutdowns. On Thursday, White House officials clarified that specifics of the at-home testing reimbursement are still being worked out and are in draft stages. It’s unclear what criteria will be for reimbursement—if there will be a cap on the total amount, or if only certain providers will count, or so on—but it’s still a major step.
White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki explained that the Biden administration “agreed” requiring insurance companies to cover the cost of at-home tests was “implementable and possible” and that they’ll “continue to build on it.” The White House says guidance will be available for insurance companies by Jan. 15.
Deputy White House COVID-19 response coordinator, Natalie Quillian, spoke to NPR in an interview about the administration’s strategy, saying they are “really pulling out all the stops” to get folks vaccinated as we head into winter and the latest variant. Quillian added this is the “right” policy and also the best economically, as “the cost of an individual getting COVID and going to the hospital and seeking those bills is much higher than the cost of any rapid home test.”
Making at-home kits free would be great for a number of circumstances. First of all, if you’re possibly sick with COVID-19, limiting your exposure to others is important, period, so being tested at home makes total sense. At-home testing can also be great for disabled people and older people. It can also help if you don’t have access to transportation or you live far enough from a testing center that the combination of travel time and cost is a barrier. It could also be nice to have some on hand, especially around the holidays, if you might have unexpected visitors of your social plans end up getting moved inside.
Certain professions, too, could really benefit from having these tests reimbursed, like teachers and other child caretakers, home aides, and people who work with the general public, like bus drivers and maintenance workers. If you work odd or irregular hours, getting to a clinic or pharmacy for a test can be a challenge, and if it’s one thing we don’t want, it’s people who might have COVID-19 simply not getting a test because they either can’t access it or can’t afford it.
The big negative here, of course, is that the test will be reimbursed—not free upfront. So you do need to have the funds to cover it initially, which not everyone will have. That’s the scenario in which you’d want to schedule a free COVID-19 test in your area, and isolate as safely and as much as possible before getting the appointment and your results back.
Luckily, this White House strategy also includes making 50 million additional tests available at no cost for low-income people in rural areas. These tests would be available at health clinics and should be available as soon as December, according to Psaki.