While the country prepares to enter the slog of another winter during the COVID-19 pandemic, health care officials continue to stress the importance of testing as a key way of helping Americans identify the virus and protecting those around them. Yet, at-home kits – the most convenient way of testing – have often been expensive or hard to come by this past year.
Today, the Biden Administration – speaking from the National Institutes of Health in Bethesda, Maryland – announced at-home rapid tests would be free for all Americans starting this winter—part of a broader, nine-point pandemic response plan ahead of the upcoming cold weather.
The more than 150 million U.S. residents with private insurance will be able to be reimbursed for at-home tests, a change that falls under the same rule that requires on-site tests to be covered by insurance.
For those on Medicare and Medicaid, the administration announced it will be sending 50 million at-home tests to approximately 20,000 sites across the country, and those tests will be distributed for free.
“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.
While the change will not retroactively cover tests already purchased, the Department of Health and Human Services – along with the Department of Labor and the Treasury Department – will issue guidance with the details of how many tests (and the frequency) will fall under the new coverage.
As for the issue of supply that led many people to find empty shelves at their neighborhood pharmacy, the administration said the latest batch should have no problem meeting the future demand, which is expected to rise once the tests can be procured for free.
“Supply will quadruple this month from where it was at the end of summer, so we’re doing a ton to ramp up all tests, but specifically a big focus on ramping up these at-home tests,” said a senior administration official, as reported by ABC.
Biden said he hopes this new winter plan – which also extends the mass transit mask mandate through March 18 and outlines tighter travel restrictions ahead of the holiday season – will help the country come together to fight the virus.
“I know COVID-19 has been divisive,” he said. “It’s become a political issue, which is a sad, sad commentary. Now as we move into the winter and face the challenges of the new variant, this is a moment we can put the divisiveness behind us, I hope. This is a moment when we can do what we haven’t been able to do enough of through this whole pandemic, get the nation to come together, unite the nation in a common purpose, to fight it and protect our economic recovery.”The plan comes on the heels of recent news that the first patient infected with the omicron variant of COVID-19 was identified in California. The omicron variant, which has been found in the Middle East and Europe in addition to South Africa, has been labeled by the World Health Organization as a “very high” risk to global health.