After the US Covid-19 Public Health Emergency ends in this month, coronavirus testing will still be offered, but who pays for it will change.
There are still questions about the exact coverage changes, but many will lose their guarantee of free tests. Some costs could shift from insurance to out-of pocket.
Before May 11, there are still many ways to benefit from the public health emergencies.
Since the last two years, the federal insurance mandate has required that private insurers cover up to 8 Covid-19 tests per month. You can find packs of home tests at local pharmacies, retailers and other places. The cost may be covered by insurance or paid upfront.
In January 2022, the Biden administration launched COVIDtests.gov to enable US households to order Covid-19 test kits for free and have them delivered at home. The site is still running and offers four free tests to households that haven't placed an order since December.
The US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has also extended the expiration dates for many home test beyond the printed date on the box. Before throwing away the home tests, check their website.
Mara Aspinall is a professor and testing and diagnostics specialist at Arizona State University.
It's important that people can test, and then isolate themselves or stay home if the test is positive.
What will happen after the 11th of May?
Cost sharing will apply to Covid-19 tests, both at home and in the laboratory, once the public health emergency is over. This means that the costs of the services will be divided between the patient's insurance plan and the cost of the test.
The private insurers are no longer required to cover testing costs. The federal government encourages continued coverage but ultimately, each company can make its own decision. Details on these plans are still scarce.
Blue Cross Blue Shield Association, according to CNN, is evaluating how best to inform members about changes. In the next phase of coverage,'reasonable limitations' may be included on tests.
David Merritt is the senior vice president for policy and advocacy at the Blue Cross Blue Shield Association. He said that as COVID-19 is becoming endemic, Blue Cross Blue Shield companies are looking into how to best support access to COVID-19 diagnostic testing. We are committed to protecting our patients from unneeded costs and ensuring that they get the care they require, when they need.
Aetna informed CNN that they did not have details to share. Cigna Humana and UnitedHealthcare have not responded to numerous requests for comment.
Medicare Part B recipients will continue to be covered for lab tests ordered by their providers, but not for home tests.
All tests will be free for those who are on Medicaid plans until September 2024.
According to a roadmap provided by the US Department of Health and Human Services, US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDCP) will continue to provide support to uninsured people and communities that are socially vulnerable 'until resources become available'.
You may also be able to get free or inexpensive testing through other means, such as state or local government programs or other initiatives.
Recent announcements by the North Carolina Department of Health and Human Services, for instance, allow all residents of the state to order free test until June.
The Rockefeller Foundation is a private, non-profit organization that has extended a program of public-private partnerships to help at-risk areas get free screenings.
Tests are now being performed in a different way
Aspinall stated that 'the testing phenomenon during Covid has changed many times'.
She said that at first, vaccines were the main focus, but then the focus shifted. Initial Omicron waves sparked a renewed interest for testing and the long waiting times for lab-based test drove people to use home tests.
Aspinall stated that the app put privacy and power in the hands of consumers.
In the months following the launch of the Covid-19 test, the federal government provided free tests to millions of households. A recent CDC report shows the program was able to reach many people who would not have otherwise tested. It also improved the equity of testing.
Around 60% of US households purchased a COVIDTests.gov test kit, and by April or may last year, nearly a third had used at least one of these tests.
According to the report, nearly a quarter (24%) of those who used the government-provided kits said they would have never tested for Covid-19 without the free kit. This means that 13 million people have taken a Covid-19 Test who otherwise would not have. Over 1 in 5 of those who took advantage of the free test reported at least one positive outcome.
Overall, the use of free test kits across all racial groups and ethnicities was similar. According to the report, this is a "considerable" difference from other home-test kits where usage was "highly unequal". Black people are more likely to use COVIDTests.gov tests than White people, but they're 72% less likely to use any other home test kit.
Now, however the number of Covid-19 cases is a third less than it was a year earlier, and hospitalizations are at their lowest level ever. The testing rates have also dropped dramatically.
Aspinall stated that along with the decrease in transmission, there may also have been a drop in the number of tests as people are better able to understand the progression of an infection.
She believes that the average person may only use one or two tests in an incident, compared to five or six on average.
The federal government states that while Covid-19 "remains a priority for public health," we are now in a much better position than three years ago and can move away from emergency mode.
Experts agree that monitoring should continue. The use of new technologies, such as wastewater surveillance, has helped to supplement the dwindling data on testing. However testing will remain an important tool to help keep people and their families safe and healthy.