A group of House Democrats on Wednesday proposed a bill that would require the government to send two at-home COVID-19 test kits to every American per week, free-of-charge.
The bill, called the Free At-Home Tests For All Act, was co-sponsored by Reps. Don Beyer, D-Va., Dina Titus, D-Nev., Joe Morelle, D-N.Y., and Kaialiʻi Kahele, D-Hawaii, and aims to “make rapid at-home Covid tests more widely available to the American people,” the lawmakers wrote in a statement.
“Providing easy access to free, at-home testing is essential to addressing COVID-19. The Free At-Home Tests for All Act removes financial barriers by making rapid tests available to everyone online, over the phone, and at local pharmacies,” Rep. Titus wrote in part. “Broadening Americans’ ability to acquire no-cost COVID tests will keep people safe by more quickly diagnosing COVID-19 and reducing the spread.”
The bill would require the Department of Health and Human Services to purchase in bulk a “sufficient quantity of rapid tests” so as to be to provide every U.S. resident – of which there are approximately 332 million, per the latest census tally – two rapid antigen tests each week for a year, beginning the day the law is enacted.
Those tests would be available at no cost through pharmacies, schools, online, by mail or phone order and through Medicare and Medicaid services. The tests would also come with free public health guidance, particularly on isolation and mitigation measures for those who test positive, and would include prepaid envelopes so individuals can send their positive tests to official laboratories for sequencing.
Under the bill, any rapid antigen test that received emergency use authorization from the Food and Drug Administration could be provided to Americans free-of-charge; the bill also requests the same authorization be applied to rapid tests approved for use by the World Health Organization or other relevant health authorities.
Finally, the bill would require HHS secretary Xavier Becerra to create a testing advisory committee to monitor the “development, manufacture, distribution, and use of diagnostic and sero-logical testing for public health needs.”
The bill would go a step further than a number of recent announcements from the White House that aim to make tests more widely available for Americans, and lawmakers hope to fast-track its passage through Congress.
“Recent moves by the Biden-Harris Administration to distribute free tests and to require private insurers to fully reimburse individuals for the cost of tests are strong, and we applaud them,” Rep. Beyer wrote in part, adding: “Our legislation would build on that progress by making free rapid at-home tests available to the American people on the scale called for by scientific and medical experts, as currently seen in other peer countries.”
The federal government has taken numerous steps to make COVID-19 testing free-of-charge, or at the very least, covered and reimbursable for those who have health insurance.
Effective Jan. 15, health insurance companies will be required to reimburse or cover the cost of up to eight approved over-the-counter COVID tests per person per month.
On Thursday, President Joe Biden announced that his administration would procure an additional 500 million tests – on top of the 500 million he had previously announced – that will be available to Americans free-of-charge through a government website that could go live as early as next week.
The administration also recently announced it would send an additional 10 million rapid antigen and PCR tests to K-12 schools nationwide.
In theory, the administration has procured enough tests for every U.S. resident, even for the approximately 28 million Americans without health insurance.
But there are a number of reasons why supply might still dwindle quickly. While federal health officials do not recommend testing as a precondition to leaving isolationfor someone who has tested positive for COVID-19, they do recommend testing in a number of other scenarios: if a person has been exposed to an individual with COVID-19, if an individual feels symptoms of the virus or as a precautionary measure before attending an indoor gathering.
Officials also encourage serial testing – performing two or more tests over the period of several days – as it “improves the reliability of testing and reduces your risk of transmitting disease to others even further,” per the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
The push for more free tests comes as the omicron variant of COVID-19 leads to a spike of cases nationwide, with the seven-day moving average of new cases hovering around 750,000.