Free Covid tests during the fall/early winter of 2022 / 2023 / 2122: Implications to the spread of HIV/AIDS
Updated December 2022: We have added more information on how to get free Covid tests. We have also removed Detect, which was discontinued.
This year has seen the fourth round of free rapid tests. The program was suspended in September due to the fact that congress would not give more funding for the program. The funds were shuffled around to buy more tests for the national stockpile.
An official speaking on condition of anonymity said that they are aware that the virus will circulate quickly during the winter holiday season. There was an increase in cases after Thanksgiving, and there could be another increase after December holiday celebrations.
Predictions and Prevention of COVID-19: What Have We Learned in the Last Three Years? The At-Home Tests of Covid-19
Consumers can be reimbursed for up to eight tests per month. The ICATT, or the Increasing Community Access To Testing program was developed to provide free community testing at more than 15,000 sites (including pharmacies, libraries, and grocery stores) across the United States. One government official said that more than 50% of tests performed through this program are for uninsured individuals. Programs similar to those in place with food banks, schools, and health centers have been put in place.
The federal government is trying to make it easier for Americans to get vaccines, tests and COVID treatments like Paxlovid during the winter months. It is staging supplies like ventilators as well as personal protective equipment, and wants to help states set up mobile and pop-up vaccination sites.
The deputy dean of the Brown University school of public health is a professor of emergency medicine. The views expressed in this commentary are her own. Read more opinion on CNN.
But we are in the midst of a terrible, no good, horrible season of several respiratory viruses. More than 10% of deaths in the US last week were attributed to flu, Covid-19, and pneumonia, which are both higher than expected at this time of year. We are short on key medications in some places. Severe health care staff shortages and overcrowding continues to plague us. There is still a lot of unused Covid-19 boosters.
It is true that there are four tests per family. But they are illustrative of a larger group of ongoing wins against Covid-19 – outside of vaccination – that should be celebrated, and then examined closely for lessons learned.
The epidemic isn’t over. Regardless of how small your circle is, it’s still very possible to contract and spread Covid-19. To help prevent this, it’s important to get tested regularly (along with getting vaccinated and wearing an N95 face mask). There are free testing sites across the country, but those pressed for time can trade in the long lines for rapid at-home Covid tests, which can provide results in 15 minutes or so.
It wasn’t until the spring of 2020 that at- home testing was available to the public. They were expensive and difficult to find back then. Not surprisingly, huge disparities in use were observed in those early months. Minorities, the elderly and low-income people were less likely to use them.
That brings us to the second piece of good news to pay attention to: Between December 2021, when the FDA provided authorization for emergency use of Paxlovid, and now, the proportion of eligible patients treated with oral antivirals after a Covid-19 diagnosis increased from less than 1% to about 40%. The improvements likely reflect the dramatic expansion of test-to-treat programs over the last few months. The time between diagnosis and provision of a prescription has been shortened because of the federal government’s directives. Private businesses, such as eMed, are also providing these services.
Despite the fact that at least half of people who may be eligible for Paxlovid don’t get a prescription, stubborn disparity still remains in access to these time sensitive treatments. For example, Blacks, Hispanics, Native Americans and people living in high social vulnerability areas – the very people who are at the highest risk of death – are less likely to receive a prescription for Paxlovid. Moreover, many people may get a prescription but be unable to fill it.
The new partnership was announced last week and it will help deliver Paxlovid to those who can’t get to the pharmacy. The program can reach almost all Americans. This latest partnership may help reduce the chance of someone contracting a serious illness and forcing them to expose others in order to get their Paxlovid prescription. It provides a lot of help to people who are not able to get transportation or child care.
Partly due to bureaucracy, there remains no FDA-approved rapid antigen or molecular home tests for influenza or RSV. Additionally, oseltamivir (commonly known as Tamiflu) is not as effective as Paxlovid, and there are no good treatments for RSV. Moreover, telehealth has already been shown to increase over-prescription – and unnecessary prescription – of some treatments, such as antibiotics; any wider scale test-to-treat program would have to be careful to make sure it doesn’t further worsen overuse of antivirals and antibiotics. And as opposed to payment for Covid-19 tests and treatment, access to other types of telehealth and medications is largely dependent on one’s insurance – or ability to pay out of pocket.
Maybe, just maybe, the small successes we have witnessed in Covid-19 can lead us to a place where even more public health innovation can occur.
At the same time, we also have developments to celebrate this holiday season. We now have some amazing new tools that reduce disease and severe illness, and they’re truly available to all.
With hundreds of options, it’s tough to know which one to buy (if they’re even in stock). Below, we’ve rounded up options—based on FDA authorization and availability—to help make the search easier. You can also now order the third round of free at-home tests from the US government (if you haven’t already). Members of our team have used some, but not all, of these tests.
Gear: A Game Theoretic Approach to Ending the Public Health Emergency and Ending Border Restriction: State of the State, the White House, and the Interfaith Committee
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Abbot is able to give results within 15 minutes of taking a sample from your nose. You can then use Navica, the companion app, to self-report your results. Those who test negative will receive a temporary encrypted digital pass they can use as official proof of their test result. The company recommends taking another test within 48 hours of the first one, or no later than 24 hours. A few members of the Gear team have used this test. We cannot verify its level of accuracy, but it was straightforward to use, with clear instructions.
A White House official said that a successful vaccine campaign and reduction in Covid cases was a reason to lift the emergency declarations. The official said a final extension will allow for a smooth transition for health care providers and patients and noted that health care facilities have already begun preparing for that transition.
“This wind down would align with the Administration’s previous commitments to give at least 60 days’ notice prior to termination of the (public health emergency),” the statement said.
“Democrats were concerned about the optics of voting against Republicans winding down the public health emergency, absent an understanding of whether and how we intended to do so from the White House,” the aide said. The White House is concerned by the bill as soon as we saw it. It was important for them to weigh in.
The administration argues that the bills are unnecessary because it intends to end the emergencies anyway. The White House also noted the passage of the measures ahead of May 11 would have unintended consequences, such as disrupting the administration’s plans for ending certain policies that are authorized by the emergencies.
The administration is actively reviewing flexible policies that were authorized under the public health emergency to determine which can remain in place after it is lifted on May 11.
The aide told CNN that it is up to the members to vote on the legislation in a way that best suits their district. Declaring an end to the public health emergency will also end the border restriction known as Title 42, which will also likely set up a showdown on Capitol Hill.
Kaiser Family Foundation senior vice president Jen Kates said people will have to start paying for things they didn’t pay for during an emergency. People will start to notice that.
Once the emergency ends, Medicare beneficiaries generally will face out-of-pocket costs for at-home testing and all treatment. However, vaccines will continue to be covered at no cost, as will testing ordered by a health care provider.
The uninsured had been able to access no-cost testing, treatments and vaccines through a different pandemic relief program. The federal funding ended in the spring of 2022, which made it more difficult for people without coverage to get free services.
Take vaccines. The federal government has been buying COVID-19 shots. It recently purchased 105 million doses of the Pfizer- BioNTech bivalent booster for $30.52 a dose, and 66 million doses of Moderna’s version for $26.36 a dose. (These are among the companies that developed the first COVID vaccines sold in the United States.)
The public health emergency has led to a 20% increase in Medicare payment rates for treating Covid-19 patients.
Also, Medicare Advantage plans have been required to bill enrollees affected by the emergency and receiving care at out-of-network facilities the same as if they were at in-network facilities.
But several of the most meaningful enhancements to public assistance programs are no longer tied to the public health emergency. Congress severed the connection in December as part of its fiscal year 2023 government funding package.
During the public health emergency in exchange for additional federal funding, states were not allowed to kick people off Medicaid. Medicaid enrollment has skyrocketed to a record 90 million people since then, and millions are expected to lose coverage once states began culling the rolls.
A total of roughly 15 million people could be dropped from Medicaid when the continuous enrollment requirement ends, according to an analysis the Department of Health and Human Services released in August. About 8.2 million folks would no longer qualify, but 6.8 million people would be terminated even though they are still eligible, the department estimated.
Food stamp recipients received a boost during public health emergencies. There was an increase in food stamp benefits to the maximum for families with more than one child.
The Biden administration expanded the boost in the spring of 2021 so that households already receiving the maximum amount and those who received only a small monthly benefit get a supplement of at least $95 a month.
Access to Health Care via Telepresence: The Future of COVID Tests, Vaccines and Treatments in the U.S
During the public health emergency, more Medicare enrollees are able to get healthcare via telepresence. The service is no longer limited just to those living in rural areas. They can conduct the telehealth visit at home, rather than having to travel to a health care facility. Plus, beneficiaries can use smartphones and receive a wider array of services via telehealth.
People on Medicare may have to pay co-pays for therapies like antivirals and tests ordered by a doctor, said Natalie Davis, a founder and the chief executive officer of United States of Care, a nonprofit that supports expanding access to health care. They will still be able to obtain free Covid vaccines, thanks to the CARES Act and regulations that the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services introduced during the pandemic, Dr. Kates said.
People with private insurance will not have to pay anything for Covid vaccines, whether they are being vaccinated for the first time or are receiving booster shots, as long as they obtain them from an in-network provider, Dr. Kates said. That is because of policy changes the Affordable Care Act introduced before the pandemic, she said.
Ryan Richardson, chief strategy officer of BioNTech told investors at a recent conference that they saw a double-digit billion dollar market opportunity. The company expects a gross price — the full price before any discounts — of $110 a dose, which, Richardson said, “is more than justified from a health economics perspective.”
Even if the vaccine taking is slow, that could mean tens of billions of dollars in revenue for the manufacturers. Consumers would either pay directly or indirectly, through higher premiums and taxpayer funded subsidies.
L.A. Care, the largest publicly operated health plan in the US with over 2.6 million memberships, has its priority in mind at the moment.
Overall, the future of COVID tests, vaccines and treatments will reflect the complicated mix of coverage consumers already navigate for most other types of care.
“From a consumer perspective, vaccines will still be free, but for treatments and test kits, a lot of people will face cost-sharing,” said Jen Kates, a senior vice president at KFF. “We’re taking what was universal access and now saying we’re going back to how it is in the regular U.S. health system.”
KHN correspondent Darius Tahir contributed to this report. KHN (Kaiser Health News) is a national, editorially independent program of KFF (Kaiser Family Foundation).