Biden to make 1B COVID tests available for free online, doubling previous 500M pledge

After facing a flood of criticism for his administration’s largely vaccine-centric COVID-19 response plan, President Joe Biden has made moves in recent months to make diagnostic tests more widely available.

The latest step in that plan saw the president announce during a virtual meeting Thursday that the federal government will be buying up another 500 million coronavirus tests for free distribution to Americans.

Those at-home test kits will join the other 500 million Biden pledged to purchase in late December. At the time, he outlined a plan to set up a government website where individuals could order the tests to be sent directly to their homes.

White House officials said Thursday that information about the website and the availability of the first set of 500 million tests would be released Friday, according to Reuters. The administration has yet to offer details about how many tests each individual will be able to order nor about any other restrictions for the program.

Since the beginning of the year, the U.S. departments of Defense and Health and Human Services have inked four contracts to start purchasing the first 500 million tests. The agencies tapped Revival Health, Atlantic Trading and Medea, which will provide a combined 40.3 million tests, as well as Goldbelt Security, which received a $51.6 million contract to deliver an unspecified number of tests.

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These efforts to send 1 billion tests directly to Americans at no cost will kick off on the heels of another of its initiatives to bring down the costs of testing. Beginning Saturday, Jan. 15, those covered by private health insurance will be able to file a claim for reimbursement of up to eight COVID tests each month.

That plan was announced at the beginning of December and was OK’d by the federal labor, treasury and health and human services offices this week. It covers all over-the-counter diagnostics that have received emergency authorization from the FDA.

The order mandates that private insurers reimburse their members for up to $12 for each test. It also incentivizes payers to set up programs with pharmacies and retailers to make the tests available at no upfront, out-of-pocket costs to covered buyers.

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In his remarks, Biden also hinted at a plan to make high-quality face masks freely available to Americans, as public health officials warn that basic cloth masks are not as effective in preventing the spread of the highly contagious omicron variant of the virus.

“We’ve more than tripled our stockpile of the most protective, specialized N95 masks since coming into office. This is going to make sure that there will be an ample supply for healthcare workers and first responders. We have also helped make sure that high-quality masks are widely available, in ample supply, at affordable prices, sold online and in stores,” Biden said.

“But I know that for some Americans, a mask is not always affordable or convenient to get,” he continued. “So, next week we’ll announce how we are making high-quality masks available to the American people for free.”