Federal government to start providing free coronavirus tests once again

Just as a summer covid wave shows signs of receding, the Biden administration announced Wednesday that it is reviving a program to mail free rapid coronavirus tests to Americans.

Starting Sept. 25, people can request four free tests per household through covidtests.gov. Officials say the tests are able to detect the latest variants and are intended to be used through the end of the year.

The return of the free testing program comes after Americans navigated the latest uptick in covid cases with free testing no longer widely available. The largest insurance companies stopped reimbursing the costs of retail at-home testing once the requirement to do so ended with the public health emergency in May. The Biden administration stopped mailing free tests in June.

The Department of Health and Human Services also announced Wednesday that it was awarding $600 million to a dozen coronavirus test manufacturers. Agency officials said the funding would improve domestic manufacturing capacity and provide the federal government with 200 million over-the-counter tests to use in the future.

Red the full article from the Washington Post.

New Telehealth Option Launched to Expand COVID-19 Treatment Access

To increase access to potentially life-saving medication to treat COVID-19, the Washington State Department of Health (DOH) and its partners have launched a new telehealth option for patients. The new option expands the Federal government’s Test to Treat initiative and gives people at risk of severe disease another way to quickly access free treatment for COVID-19.

Until now, telehealth for COVID-19 has only been available to insured patients who receive care through a health care provider that offers telehealth visits. This new program makes telehealth consultations for COVID-19 available to everyone, regardless of insurance status, with no out-of-pocket costs.

“At DOH, we value equity and innovation, and have embraced those values throughout our COVID-19 response,” said Umair A. Shah, MD, MPH, Secretary of Health. “Ensuring that we can equitably connect communities with therapeutics is pivotal so that we can continue our mission of reducing unnecessary death from this disease.”

DOH encourages people who test positive for COVID-19 to discuss treatment options with their primary health care provider. In situations where this might not be possible, free telehealth consultations are another option that can make it even easier to access treatments for COVID-19. People who test positive for COVID-19, including with a self-test, can consult with a health care provider using a smartphone or computer with a high-speed internet connection.

If appropriate, they can receive a free prescription for pick-up at the nearest pharmacy that has the oral antivirals or have their medication delivered. More than 1,000 sites are available across the state. This telehealth service is currently provided by DOH in collaboration with partners, including Birds Eye Medical and Color Health.    

There are two options to set up a telehealth appointment –  either by visiting DOH’s new telehealth webpage or by calling the DOH COVID-19 call center. Those interested in signing up virtually can complete a brief intake form on DOH’s new telehealth webpage. If the information provided indicates treatment may be appropriate, the patient will be connected virtually with a health care provider for a consultation. Telehealth providers are available every day from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m.

Those interested can arrange an appointment by phone by calling the DOH COVID-19 call center at 1–800–525–0127 and press #. The call center is available to arrange telehealth consultations from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. on Mondays, and 8 a.m. to 6 p.m. on Tuesdays through Sundays and state holidays.

Telehealth appointments are currently available in 240 languages through translation services. People interested in receiving a telehealth appointment in a language other than English should arrange an appointment through the DOH COVID-19 call center. 

One of the most effective COVID-19 treatments is Paxlovid, an oral antiviral drug that reduces the risk of hospitalization by approximately 90 percent. Oral antivirals like Paxlovid are only available by prescription and must be started within five days of first symptoms to prevent severe illness and hospitalization from COVID-19. 

“Our goal is for all eligible patients at high risk for severe disease to have equitable access to life-saving COVID-19 treatments,” said Tao Sheng Kwan-Gett, MD, MPH, Chief Science Officer. “We’re excited to make this service free to everyone with no out of pocket costs so that even those without insurance will be able to access antiviral medications. And by offering telehealth consultations in multiple languages, the program increases access for non-English speakers as well.”

Oral antivirals are an important treatment for people who are at high risk of hospitalization. People at high risk include those 65 years old or older, obese, pregnant, have chronic medical conditions such as heart, lung, or kidney disease, or people who are taking immunosuppressant treatments. Children as young as 12 years old with certain chronic conditions and who weigh at least 88 pounds, may also be eligible for antiviral treatment. Learn more about what may place people at high risk for COVID-19.

Visit the Washington State Department of Health’s website for more information on COVID-19 treatments and information for health care providers.

Many Uninsured People Could Lose Access to Free COVID-19 Testing, Treatment, and Vaccines as Federal Funding Runs Out

With an impasse in Congress over additional COVID-19 emergency funding, uninsured people could lose access to free testing and treatment services, a new KFF brief explains.

For people without health insurance, the Health Resources and Services Administration (HRSA) COVID-19 Uninsured Program has reimbursed hospitals, doctors and other providers for the COVID-19 care and services that they provide to uninsured people. However, with federal funds running out, the program is no longer accepting new claims for testing and treatment services and will stop accepting claims for administering vaccines on April 5.

Many uninsured individuals would likely need to pay out of pocket for testing and some treatment services or rely on safety-net providers absorbing those additional costs without any way to get reimbursed. So long as supplies remain available, vaccines would continue to be paid for by the federal government and people could not be charged, but vaccine providers would not get paid for administering vaccines to uninsured people and could restrict access. This could exacerbate existing racial and ethnic disparities, as people of color are more likely than their White counterparts to be uninsured and face other potential barriers to accessing care.

The brief also outlines how the federal government has used previously authorized funds to purchase COVID-19 tests, medications, and vaccines, and the implications for efforts to help ensure equitable access to and ongoing availability of these resources as that funding runs out.

For people with health coverage, including Medicare and Medicaid, existing rules and protections will ensure that they will continue to have access to COVID-19 tests, treatment, and vaccines, though some limits on cost sharing will end when the ongoing federal COVID-19 Public Health Emergency ends. If the federal government is no longer able to pre-purchase tests, treatment medications, and vaccines, supplies may run short if and when the next COVID-19 wave hits and demand increases.

Get Free At-⁠Home COVID-⁠19 Tests

The federal government website for providing free COVID tests is now active:

“Every home in the U.S. is eligible to order #4 free at-⁠home COVID-⁠19 tests. The tests are completely free. Orders will usually ship in 7-12 days.

The tests available for order:

  • Are rapid antigen at-home tests, not PCR
  • Can be taken anywhere
  • Give results within 30 minutes (no lab drop-off required)
  • Work whether or not you have COVID-⁠19 symptoms
  • Work whether or not you are up to date on your COVID-⁠19 vaccines
  • Are also referred to as self-tests or over-the-counter (OTC) tests”