It doesn’t take a lot of backbone or moral courage to give away other peoples’ money. So, it’s disappointing, although hardly surprising, that the Biden administration’s “solution” to the national shortage of COVID-19 tests is simply to declare them “free.”
Per a statement released Monday, the Department of Health and Human Services will require private health insurance providers to cover over-the-counter COVID-19 tests with no out-of-pocket costs for insured consumers.
“Under President Biden’s leadership, we are requiring insurers and group health plans to make tests free for millions of Americans,” said HHS Secretary Xavier Becerra. “This is all part of our overall strategy to ramp up access to easy-to-use, at-home tests at no cost. By requiring private health plans to cover people’s at-home tests, we are further expanding Americans’ ability to get tests for free when they need them.”
There are a few glaring problems with this approach.
For one, it doesn’t actually make these COVID-19 tests “free” in any meaningful sense. Yes, insured people will not have to pay directly to receive them, but insurance companies must pay for the tests. And insurance costs are ultimately pooled across all consumers. (That’s literally what private health insurance is by definition.) So the cost for these tests will still, in fact, fall on consumers, just indirectly. “Free” is just a political spin.
Secondly, making something “free” doesn’t do anyone much good if there aren’t any available products to begin with.
Saying insurance providers must cover tests doesn’t fill the empty pharmacy shelves across the country with inventory. It doesn’t eliminate the hours-long lines and queues of people waiting for a limited supply of tests. It is a shortage of available tests, not the cost, that has been preventing most people (including myself) from getting their hands on at-home COVID tests.
So, simply addressing the cost is like putting a Band-Aid on a bullet hole. No, it’s like putting a Band-Aid next to a bullet hole.
If the Biden administration actually wants to rectify the national testing shortage, it must do more than volunteer other peoples’ money. It must reflect on and correct its harmful regulatory roadblocks that have limited the supply of COVID-19 tests to begin with.
As I previously explained for the Washington Examiner:
A ProPublica investigation published last month noted that in European countries such as France, Belgium, and Germany, ‘at-home tests are ubiquitous and as cheap as a decent cappuccino.’ But it found that in the U.S., they’re ‘pricey and hard to find,’ in part because of ‘overzealous regulation.’
The ProPublica investigation explains that, as of mid-November, the EU had authorized 39 rapid self-administered COVID antigen tests, but the U.S. had authorized just 12, only nine of which were available over the counter. That’s right: U.S. regulators have approved less than one-third as many of these tests as their European counterparts. With the supply of tests so artificially and arbitrarily constrained, is it any wonder there’s a shortage?
If the Biden administration actually wants to solve our national testing shortage, “generously” giving away other peoples’ money isn’t going to cut it. It needs to call up its Food and Drug Administration bureaucrats and get them the heck out of the way.