Home 5 News 5 US Government Suspends Free At-Home COVID-19 Antigen Test Program

US Government Suspends Free At-Home COVID-19 Antigen Test Program

by | Sep 15, 2022 | News, News-nir, Open Content

Biden administration blames the decision on Congress’ failure to provide the additional funding necessary to keep the program going.

It was great while it lasted. But now the Biden administration has decided to pull the plug on its free COVID-19 antigen testing initiative, blaming the decision on Congress’ failure to provide the additional funding necessary to keep the program going.

The Free COVID-19 Test Program

At-home, self-testing by the asymptomatic for purposes of screening has been a central element in the Biden COVID-19 response and recovery strategy from the very beginning. During the global spread of the Omicron variant in January, the administration made the commitment to purchase 1 billion tests for use in the US. Tests were distributed for free in two rounds providing up to four tests per household, with over 350 million test kits distributed. In May, the government doubled down on its investment, by initiating a new round offering eight more tests per household.

The plan was to keep the program going. But politics intervened. In February, the administration asked Congress to provide $22.5 billion in additional emergency funding for pandemic response. Republicans pushed back, accusing the administration of corruption and misuse of previous response funds. Not a dime more in new pandemic response until you make a full accounting of how you spent the previous round of response money, the Republicans insisted. In announcing the latest round of free test distribution in May, the government warned that the program might not continue without a new funding agreement. Sure enough, attempts at a compromise on a new spending bill failed, forcing the federal government to cut back on its response efforts.

Impact of Suspension of the Free Test Program

The free testing program has now become a casualty of the failure to reach agreement on new COVID-19 response funding. On Aug. 30, the government announced on the website it created when launching the program that it would no longer provide free at-home COVID-19 antigen tests, as of Sept. 2. “Ordering through this program will be suspended…because Congress hasn’t provided additional funding to replenish the nation’s stockpile of tests,” according to the announcement. Although the stockpiles haven’t totally disappeared, the administration has decided that it needs to hold back the tests that remain in case of a new surge of COVID-19 cases later in the year.

Technically, free test distribution has been suspended, not permanently terminated. The government has indicated that it will resume the program when and if Congress does provide the necessary funding.

In the meantime, people with health insurance can still get free tests. The coronavirus response legislation adopted in the early months of the pandemic requires private insurers to cover eight COVID-19 tests per month. Medicare Part B also covers up to eight tests per month. But rather than getting them directly from the government, beneficiaries (including those in Medicare) may now have to go out and buy the tests themselves, and then seek reimbursement for their out-of-pocket costs.

In addition, according to the COVID.gov website, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services will also continue its program of providing no- or low-cost COVID-19 testing, both antigen- and PCR-based, at health centers and select pharmacies for the uninsured and other individuals. But for all of these silver linings, the suspension of the government’s free antigen testing program is cause for concern, especially as colder weather and influenza season approach. At-home tests aren’t cheap, ranging in price from $20 to $100, depending on the type of test. Utilization of such tests is bound to decrease if people have to start paying for them out of their own pockets. This is true even of those who have insurance.