On Monday, the Biden administration announced that it would require private insurers to cover the cost of at-home COVID-19 rapid tests. The mandate is set to go into effect tomorrow. While it has been criticized for its likelihood to lead to shortages and higher costs, health insurers are running into another problem: They don't know how they'll follow the new rule.
According to New York Times reporter Sarah Kliff, health insurers are struggling to develop some way of implementing the new rule. Health insurance systems are set up to process medical billing codes that correspond to particular services or procedures; they are not equipped to cover or reimburse retail purchases. As Kliff reports, the best advice that insurers can offer most customers is to simply save their receipts, and the boxes the tests came in, to file for reimbursement at an unspecified later date. As one insurance broker characterized it, "There will be some people who buy them, and then have a six-month nightmare trying to get reimbursed."
All told, some insurance companies say that it will take weeks before they are completely ready.
The insurers' response underscores the clearly disorganized way in which the rule was conceived. The Biden administration is offering a solution that does not have a straightforward method of implementation. Coupled with widespread vaccination, easy access to rapid tests is a critical component of ending the COVID-19 pandemic. This is as true today as it was over a year ago, as Americans waited for the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to finally approve a rapid test for at-home use—an approval that finally came more than eight months into the pandemic, yet still required people to get a prescription.
Lack of FDA approval is the primary obstacle standing in the way of readily available rapid tests on store shelves. Plenty of tests—including some made by American companies!—are available in Europe, but remain unavailable to Americans because of the slow pace of bureaucracy. The Biden administration's attempts at playing catch-up have consistently missed the mark. The solution is simple: Loosen the FDA approval process, and stand aside.