This week, President Biden signaled a new path in fighting the COVID-19 pandemic: expanding on demand, at-home testing.
During an event at the National Institutes of Health Thursday, the president announced that private insurance companies will soon be required to cover cost of at-home COVID-19 test kits.
The administration plans for insurance reimbursement are not expected to be ready until the new year and federal rules governing the program are still be drafted.
Since September, the White House has been stepping up efforts to greatly expand the availability of COVID-19 home test kits, when the president announced a $2 billion plan to purchase rapid tests.
Mara Aspinall, a health industry researcher at Arizona State University and a leading authority on COVID-19 testing supplies, says the move is crucial.
“I believe home testing is critical as one of the key levers to ending the pandemic,” Aspinall said. “It is critical that we find ways to get these tests into all Americans’ hands.”
The Biden administration has stated plans to make available 50 million COVID-19 at-home test kits to older people and other vulnerable groups.
The president also announced in September that the federal government would take steps to ensure home-test manufacturers have the raw materials to ensure an adequate supply.
“We need to use testing to find people who are positive with no or very few symptoms and ensure that they can isolate and not further spread the disease,” said Aspinall.
Although laboratory testing is considered the gold standard, Aspinall said at-home test kits are reliable, especially if a person has symptoms.
“The rapid at-home tests are very accurate. If you have symptoms and you get a positive on this test, you don’t need to test twice. It’s pretty clear that you have COVID, Aspinall said. “If you don’t have symptoms and you’re going out, and you’re interacting with others it’s a perfect time to use these tests. They are highly accurate, no test is perfect.”
Some COVID-19 test kits available for sale at pharmacies are sold in two-test packs, which retail for about $24. The tests kits are expected to become less expensive and more available in the months ahead, allowing routine, at-home COVID testing to become much more common than it is today.
“What I see in the future when tests become much, much cheaper (under $5, maybe under $2 each), [is] that we all do a test, once a week, to ensure we are not carrying a virus that can go out to others,” said Aspinall.
Aspinall expects the availability of at-home COVID-19 test kits to rise significantly by Christmas.
According to Aspinall, the nation’s estimated monthly capacity for Antigen home testing kits, currently sold under the Food and Drug Administration’s Emergency Use Authorization, has risen from 81 million in September to an estimated 242 million this month.
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