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White House advisor on Equity: Free COVID-19 tests to be distributed in an equitable way

President Biden announced his winter COVID response plan at the NIH & a Tulane scientist responds
Published: Dec. 2, 2021 at 6:43 PM CST
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Rapid COVID-19 at-home tests can be purchased over-the-counter.
Rapid COVID-19 at-home tests can be purchased over-the-counter.(Source: WVUE)

NEW ORLEANS (WVUE) - President Biden unveiled his administration’s winter COVID-19 response plan and a huge emphasis is placed on making rapid testing for the virus more accessible and convenient.

Biden made the announcement at the National Institutes of Health.

“The bottom line this winter, you’ll be able to test for free in the comfort of your home and have some peace of mind,” said Biden.

The White House is expanding free at-home COVID-19 test kits to help keep tabs on how and where the virus is spreading as winter approaches and more people will gather indoors.

FOX 8 spoke one-on-one with Dr. Cameron Webb, Senior Policy Advisor for Equity on the White House COVID Response Team.

“Testing is really one of the critical efforts that we have to have in order to keep this pandemic under control. People have to know whether they’re sick or not and so I think it’s really important for everyone to have access,” said Webb.

Dr. Charles Stoecker is an associate professor in Tulane University’s School of Public Health.

“More surveillance is always good, empowering people to be able to detect viruses in themselves without the extra burden of having to go to a doctor or go to a pharmacy is a really good idea,” said Stoecker.

Biden said insurance companies will be required to reimburse people for the cost of the test. Webb said those with health coverage will need to contact their insurer for specifics on the reimbursement procedure.

“You know, the president announced that’s going to be part of the new policy that folks will get reimbursed, so folks with private insurance they can request and get information on particularly how to get reimbursed, which I think is pretty standard fare for most services that are through private insurance,” said Webb.

Stoecker thinks having insured Americans seek reimbursement is cumbersome.

“That one seems a little bit burdensome to me, I don’t know if you have any Health Savings Account where you have to like take pictures of your receipt and remember your login at the portal, etc., and that’s kind of this extra layer of people getting their money back. I’m sure some people will pursue it,” said Stoecker.

But under the president’s plan, the uninsured will get the tests without paying anything.

Stoecker praises that part of the plan.

“That part I’m excited about, right? So, like making stuff free to people,” he said.

The PCR test which takes longer to get results is considered the gold standard for COVID testing but Dr. Webb said the at-home tests have undergone rigorous testing too and he said the administration and federal health agencies are taking the Omicron variant into account when it comes to the tests.

“We are tracking this Omicron variant and its potential impact on testing but all the indications we have so far, so there’s certainly our PCR test should still be accurate but at the same time, we know that at least some, if not all tests should, our rapid tests should still be accurate. Right now there’s an assessment going on and we know that it will take a couple of weeks to get all of the data back, but just to make sure, to double-check and make sure all these tests are still accurate,” said Webb.

Stoecker said, “Comparing to the gold standard, so obviously if everyone could get a PCR test that would be the best way to go and what the at-home test kits are trying to address are the barriers to the PCR test, so obviously with the PCR test you have to go somewhere, that sample has to be sent to a lab.”

Webb was asked how the White House will ensure that the free tests are distributed equitably.

“Well, the entire design of the tests being available was designed with equity at the center of it,” said Webb. “Really focusing on community-based locations, we’ve increased the number of tests going to those locations from 25 million up to 50 million, so these are a lot of tests going into communities, going to places that are, you know, places that are, you know, places, people who are the hardest hit.”

Biden’s plan also includes ramping up access to booster shots for all adults, vaccination clinics where entire families can receive initial vaccination and booster shots, stronger public health protocols for international travelers heading to the U.S., and rapid response teams to help address rising case numbers.

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