January 21, 2022
ACHP spoke with TIME Magazine’s Abigail Abrams about the implementation challenges of new federal rules requiring private insurers to cover at-home COVID tests.
by Abigail Abrams, TIME Magazine
This week, nearly two full years into the on-going pandemic, the Biden Administration told Americans that they would, at long last, be given access to free, rapid COVID-19 tests — a key tool in containing the spread of the virus.
The effort was a major step in the right direction, public health experts say. But it has also been kludgy, overly-complicated—and it doesn’t go nearly far enough, they say.
Ceci Connolly, president and CEO of the Alliance of Community Health Plans, which represents small nonprofit insurers, predicts a nationwide “shoe box effect” — people “are going to be collecting and hanging on to all of these paper receipts, and one day, stuffing them in an envelope and putting them in the mail,” she says. “That raises all kinds of questions about the authenticity. Who used this test kit? Was it a covered member? How many did they have in a given period of time? Just endless practicality questions.”
That’s not good for insurers. But it’s also not good for public health. Research has repeatedly found that adding costs and other burdens actively discourages people from getting the care they need. Even small costs, such as a $10 increase for prescription drugs, can make patients less likely to take their medications, a study last year found. Half of U.S. adults say they skipped or put off health or dental care in the last year due to the cost, according to the Kaiser Family Foundation’s 2021 Employer Health Benefits Survey.
Connolly says that the smaller nonprofit plans she represents are having trouble finding pharmacies that want to partner with them. But the biggest issue, she says, is that there is still a shortage of tests around the country. Even if health plans strike a deal with a pharmacy or direct members to a retail location, the store is frequently out of stock.
“We’re very worried that consumers are going to get frustrated,” she says. “And then you might just have more of that boomerang effect where somebody tried to get tests, they couldn’t and so then they stop.”