Biden administration officials decided that sending free COVID-19 tests to all Americans would be too costly and inefficient, sources told Politico.
The White House thus chose to pay for at-home COVID-19 testing through private insurance instead of the European-style approach in which government buys and distributes rapid tests, Politico reported Thursday.
The United Kingdom, one-fifth the size of the U.S., has employed a $50 billion "test and trace" program, Politico reported.
Some administration officials believe the cost of sending out hundreds of millions of rapid tests — with a significant percentage likely going unused — would be unsustainable, Politico said.
President Joe Biden last week announced plans to make at-home COVID-19 tests free to Americans with health insurance.
Critics say the process will be more complicated than in Europe, where people can get free tests at pharmacies, and the reimbursement structure will be inconvenient.
White House press secretary Jen Psaki offered a curt response Monday after she was asked whether the administration considered giving everyone free at-home tests.
"Should we just send one to every American?" Psaki said, The Washington Post reported.
After it was suggested that might be a good idea, Psaki shot back: "Then what happens if you — if every American has one test? How much does that cost, and then what happens after that?"
Psaki's answer earned condemnation from some experts.
"Offensive and unbecoming of someone representing the White House," Celine Gounder, an infectious disease specialist who advised the Biden transition’s COVID-19 response, told Politico.
"It's like they want to appear like they’re doing something, but aren’t as concerned about actual impact."
Politico reported that some officials were skeptical over whether most Americans prefer taking regular rapid tests over the more accurate PCR tests.
In the past several days, the White House has emphasized its efforts to make free COVID-19 tests available in hospitals, doctor's offices, and community centers, Politico reported.
"A new @CDCMMWR details creation & expansion of a national #COVID19 testing program. Now expanded into the Increasing Community Access To Testing (ICATT) program, no-charge testing has been provided at more than 10,000 locations nationwide. Learn more: https://bit.ly/mm7049a3," the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention tweeted Thursday.
A Department of Health and Human Services spokesperson told Politico that "we’ve considered and continue to consider a host of options as we continue to work to support testing access and affordability."
Congress earlier this year allocated roughly $48 billion for COVID-19 testing, though $9.4 billion remains uncommitted. The HHS spokesperson told Politico that plans already existed to spend the remaining amount.
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