Biden buys up 500M rapid, at-home COVID tests to distribute for free in 2022

Many of the most tangible effects of Joe Biden’s presidency so far have revolved around the COVID-19 pandemic, with campaigns that have sent the national adult vaccination rate above the 70% mark and a host of ongoing projects to make coronavirus testing accessible and affordable to everyone in the U.S.

As his first full year in office draws to a close—and as the highly contagious omicron variant of the virus surges to overtake delta as the majority of new diagnoses—his administration is doubling down on those efforts.

The next step in the crusade to get COVID tests in the hands of anyone who needs or wants one is a plan to distribute rapid, at-home tests online and at no charge this winter.

According to a White House fact sheet, the administration will purchase half a billion over-the-counter rapid tests. Americans will then be able to visit a website—not yet activated—where they can have the tests mailed directly to their homes. The first deliveries will begin in January 2022, and the entire process will be completely free to test-takers.

The White House hasn’t yet specified how many tests each person or household will be allowed to request.

In a statement, Scott Whitaker, CEO and president of medtech trade association AdvaMed, applauded Biden's "encouraging" move, but urged the administration to go further in ensuring diagnostic tools are accessible to all Americans.

"Market predictability has been absolutely imperative for the diagnostic testing industry throughout this pandemic, particularly given its unique and vital role in patient care," Whitaker said. "The federal government can and should play the pivotal role of guaranteeing the market for these COVID tests going forward, so that our testing supply remains where it needs to be and diagnostics companies know how best to meet demand."

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Elsewhere in the president’s latest slate of initiatives to increase testing access is a plan to set up even more federal testing sites across the U.S. to provide low- or no-cost diagnostics. The newest locations will be directed to areas of the country most in need of additional testing capacity, per the fact sheet, with the first being established in New York City this week.

Additionally, Biden will continue taking advantage of the Defense Production Act to allocate federal funding and other necessary resources to help private diagnostic developers speed up production.

Biden’s use of the act in recent months resulted in a quadrupling of the nation’s supply of rapid COVID tests by the beginning of December, and the White House said that additional resources provided to two test-makers in the last week have helped them rapidly scale up their production of lab-based, point-of-care and over-the-counter tests.

RELATED: Biden’s omicron battle plan includes private insurance reimbursement for at-home COVID tests

These efforts come just a few weeks after Biden announced yet another initiative to make COVID tests more readily available. The administration is working with health insurance providers to make at-home tests completely reimbursable for Americans covered by private insurers.

Under that ruling, which is set to be finalized by Jan. 15, after purchasing any diagnostics that have received emergency authorization from the FDA for direct-to-consumer use, the more than 150 million privately insured Americans will be able to file for total reimbursement with their insurer.