Before Biden’s plans for more at-home tests, over-the-counter kits cost several times more than similar tests in other countries
The federal government also plans to launch a website next week for Americans to order such tests to be delivered to their homes at no cost.
The latest announcement follows the administration’s move to require private health insurance providers to cover the costs of up to eight over-the-counter tests per month.
Under that policy, people who provide their insurance information to certain in-network pharmacies will be able to get their tests for free without paying any out-of-pocket costs, effective on 15 January. Millions of uninsured Americans will not be eligible for reimbursements.
Critics have asked White House officials: Why not make them free? And why are they more expensive than tests in other countries?
Before the president announced plans to pay for more at-home tests, such over-the-counter tests cost up to four times as much than tests in other countries.
In France, residents can now pick up tests at supermarkets as well as pharmacies, which can offer them for no more than about $6.
In the UK, residents can request free packs of mail-order rapid lateral flow tests. Canadian businesses can request free rapid test kits for their staff, to be delivered directly from the government or picked up at pharmacies.
Effective this weekend, the maximum price for rapid tests kits available at pharmacies in Spain will be capped at about $3.
German residents are eligible for one free rapid test a week, and over-the-counter tests can cost as little as about $2.
Widely available rapid testing in the US has become a vital component, along with vaccines and face coverings, to help control infections during the public health crisis, and results have become an integral part of the nation’s “reopening” as millions of Americans balance a pandemic with the demands of school and work for themselves and their families.
Rapid tests take roughly 15 minutes and are able to quickly detect virus proteins that trigger the production of antibodies, essentially signalling whether the person is contagious at that moment. Polymerase chain reaction (PCR) tests are generally more accurate but take longer to process.
At-home tests can also be expensive – tests can range from $10 to $35 – with out-of-pocket costs quickly adding up for families or people who require results for work and other activities.
And they can also be free, depending on demand and availability, at public health centres and other sites, from libraries and fire departments, as determined by state and local governments handling their distribution. Mobile testing sites run by local public health programmes offering rapid tests have popped up across the US.
The administration’s latest manoeuvres to expand the availability of free or low-cost testing follow weeks of reports of at-home test shortages on pharmacy shelves during the emergence of the more-contagious Omicron variant and spiking infections as millions of Americans prepared for winter holidays.
Supply chain issues, breakdowns in shipping because of Covid infections among staff, and increased demand during infection spikes, among other issues, have limited at-home test supplies on pharmacy shelves in recent weeks, while manufacturers – and companies vying for FDA approval to begin filling out orders – are shipping out tests as fast as they can make them.
The Biden administration will rely on a beefed-up US Postal Service to ship out tests under its new plan.
Mark Dimondstein, the president of the American Postal Workers Union, said on Thursday the agency will employ 7,000 seasonal workers at 43 sites across to help pack and ship tests.