While President Joe Biden is planning to make at-home COVID-19 tests free to Americans with health insurance, the reimbursement structure through their insurers is going to be "cumbersome" and limiting, according to critics.
Biden announced the plan Thursday and the Kaiser Family Foundation's Larry Levitt noted it would "certainly make at-home testing more accessible," but "it's still going to be cumbersome for people," he told The Hill, adding "I have no doubt that insurers will put up roadblocks."
"The answer to 'do I really need this?' is always yes," Johns Hopkins Center for Health Security's Jennifer Nuzzo told The Hill. "The most preferable option would be to make these ***damn things free or close to free and make them widely available so people can just pick them up."
Insured people will still have to buy the tests up front and submit receipts to their health insurance company for reimbursement – a plan that is less efficient than European countries that provide them for free or just a few dollars, according to the report.
"When I came into office, none of these tests were on the market," Biden said Thursday at the National Institutes of Health. "Thanks to our actions and the work of all of you, we now have at least eight at-home testing options and prices for those tests are coming down.
"But it still isn’t good enough, in my view. That's why I am announcing that health insurers must cover the cost of at-home testing So that if you're one of the 150 million Americans with private health insurance, next month your plan will cover at-home tests."
The plan is noble compared to nothing, but heavily criticized compared to Europe.
"I just did a BBC interview," Columbia University Medical Center's Craig Spencer tweeted. "The host said that in the U.K. you can just walk into a pharmacy and pick up free tests. I informed him that at-home tests in the US cost $8-$10 each — if you can find them — and I'm not sure but I think maybe his head exploded.
"But don't worry, next month in the U.S., if you're lucky enough to have private health insurance, you MIGHT have the opportunity to submit the costs of SOME at-home tests to an insurance company whose only motive is profit."
Maine CDC Director Nirav Shah is also critical.
"A pay-and-chase model where individuals have to have an expenditure up front and then get reimbursed for it, that introduces an access challenge for a lot of folks," he told reporters this week, according to The Hill.
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