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Americans without health insurance now have fewer options to receive free COVID-19 tests, ABC News reports.
Federal funding that covered the cost of coronavirus testing and treatment for uninsured Americans ended last week. Future funding relies on Congress passing the White House’s request for billions of dollars in COVID relief, which appears to be stuck in debate.
Quest Diagnostics, one of the largest testing companies in the U.S., told ABC News that patients who aren’t on Medicare, Medicaid, or a private health insurance plan will now be charged $125 when using one of its QuestDirect tests. People have been able to order the test kits online or at major retail locations that give the tests, such as Walmart.
Last week, Quest began to tell its clients and partners that the reimbursement for uninsured patients is no longer available, according to The New York Times . In 2021, the program spent $130 million to reimburse health care professionals for testing, treating, and vaccinating uninsured people.
At Northwell Health in New York, the state’s largest health care provider with 55 urgent care sites, uninsured patients who want a COVID-19 test will be charged $125 to $195 for a test, in addition to lab fees for processing, ABC News reported.
Uninsured people who go to one of Statcare’s 13 urgent care clinics in New York will now be charged $100 for a test, ABC News reported.
Major retail pharmacies are figuring out how to shift their plans as well. Walgreens told ABC News that it is waiting on further guidance from the White House and federal agencies and remains “hopeful for a path forward that ensures uninterrupted access to COVID-19 services.” CVS said it is “fully confident” that Congress and the Biden administration will find a solution.
Unless Congress agrees to more funding, companies will likely have to absorb the cost of uninsured customers or begin charging them, the news outlet reported. The National Association of Chain Drug Stores, which represents major retail stores such as CVS, Costco, Hy-Vee, and Albertsons, has called for a solution.
“Any premature lapse in funding that splinters care access threatens to disintegrate the robust, equity-driven COVID-19 pandemic response that has so far saved more than a million lives,” the group wrote in recent letters to the White House and U.S. Senate and House leaders.
Without funding, new policies could “create extreme confusion at the pharmacy counter,” the group wrote, and “result in the tragedy of increasing disparities in access to critically needed care and patients forgoing care.”
The American Clinical Laboratory Association, which represents major labs such as Quest and LabCorp, has also raised concerns.
“Without question, the exhaustion of these funds will threaten access to testing for the most vulnerable Americans at a critical time in our nation’s response effort,” Tom Sparkman, the group’s senior vice president of government affairs and policy, wrote in a letter to House and Senate leaders last week.
During the peak of the Omicron variant wave in January and February, labs performed 500,000 tests per month for uninsured patients, he wrote.
“We are still in a public health emergency,” he told ABC News in an interview. “We’re not out of the woods yet — we don’t want to start taking apart pieces of the response. We need to remain strong and vigilant, and the uninsured funding is a critical component of that.”
ABC News: “Free COVID-19 tests ending for uninsured Americans.”
The New York Times: “Concerns rise as a U.S. reimbursement fund for testing and treating the uninsured for the virus stops taking claims.”
National Association of Chain Drug Stores: “Critical funding needed to sustain necessary pandemic care to help prevent detrimental loss of access and backsliding on health equity.”
American Clinical Laboratory Association: “COVID Relief Funding Letter,” March 21, 2022.