The COVID-19 public health emergency declaration will officially run out on Thursday, and when it does, many emergency measures that provided people with certain benefits will run out as well.
One of those benefits was the ability for most people to get free coronavirus home test kits.
Most health experts have said that usage of the tests almost surely will drop now that they’re no longer free, which will almost certainly result in more people contracting COVID-19 and never knowing they ever had it.
As the American Public Health Association’s executive director, Georges Benjamin, told media outlet The Hill this week:
“We definitely know that when you add a copayment to a medical procedure or test, that utilization goes down. And sometimes, utilization goes down in areas where we care about.”
He added there’s “no question” overall test utilization will drop once the tests aren’t free anymore. However, he wasn’t quick to lay out exactly what the impact might be on public health as a result.
Some people who have federal health care coverage will still be able to obtain free COVID-19 tests. There are even some private health insurers that will still offer the tests for free.
But, the majority of people in the country will have to at least fork over a copay to their insurance company when they go to purchase an at-home COVID-19 test, or get one done in a facility.
As part of the public health emergency declaration, all private insurance companies had to cover all testing for COVID-19, whether that was done through at-home tests purchased over-the-counter or in a laboratory. They also weren’t allowed to initiate any cost sharing with the patient either, meaning they were responsible for covering the full cost of the tests.
That requirement won’t stand any longer as of May 12, though, and many major insurance companies have already said that they won’t be covering the costs of OTC tests from here on out.
Last month, Cigna issued a statement that said OTC tests won’t be covered anymore, and that they would be subjecting people to cost-sharing for lab tests.
A similar statement was released by Aetna – which is owned by CVS Health – saying that all customers would need to pay full retail price for any OTC COVID-19 tests from here on out.
Some insurance companies said they would cover OTC tests, but not in all cases. Kaiser Permanente plans to cover at-home COVID-19 tests for six more months, but that’s only the case for people in California.
Outside of the state, all treatments, tests and vaccines for COVID-19 would be treated “like any other condition, with applicable plan out-of-pocket costs,” a company spokesperson said.
Beneficiaries of the Children’s Health Insurance Program and Medicaid will both still have access to lab testing and OTC tests through September of 2024, the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services said last month.
And after then, what coverage still exists will depend from state to state, according to the agency.