Testing yourself for COVID-19 at home could be easier and cheaper next month thanks to a new White House plan, but experts doubt the measure will be enough to help people in poorer and more rural parts of Georgia.
Under the plan announced this month by President Joe Biden, Americans with private insurance will be able to purchase tests at home starting January 15 and get reimbursement from their insurance company.
“For those who don’t have private insurance, we’ll be making free tests available in thousands of convenient locations where people can pick them up and take a test kit home,” said Biden when presenting the plan to the National Institutes of Health. “The bottom line is that this winter you can test it for free from the comfort of your home and you can rest assured.”
The White House says the federal government will double the number of free tests available in municipal locations to 50 million and add rural clinics to its list of distribution locations.
Data shows Georgians are not tested as often as other Americans – the Kaiser Family Foundation reports that Georgia residents take 832 tests per million people every day, compared to a national rate of 2,424, which puts Georgia 46th in the nation .
Increasing the availability of tests is always a good thing, said Mary Ukuku, assistant professor of public health at Kennesaw State University.
“It allows people to quarantine themselves to make sure they are no longer interacting with other people, and that is how we can really prevent or slow down the spread of the virus or re-infection for people who are already infected,” she said . “Tests are not only a way for healthcare professionals to know how prevalent they are in our state, but they are much more important in empowering individuals to know how to protect themselves and their families . “
Tests at home are particularly empowering, she said. The ability to test outside of doctor’s office hours means people with sore throats can better decide whether to take up work, be more comfortable visiting older family members, or just test regularly when they are particularly at risk.
Save your receipts
Ukuku called the plan a step in the right direction but said the White House could do more to ensure that Georgians at risk can get tested.
Georgia State University professor of public health Harry Heiman agrees.
“The existing plan has some major gaps, one of which is scope,” he said. “With 50 million tests available, that doesn’t come close to meeting the need for the number we need to scale up to.”
Another big problem is prepayment, Heiman said. Many Georgians may want to buy at home tests but don’t have enough headroom to wait for a refund or they just don’t want to worry about keeping their receipts and dealing with their insurance company.
“Even if you have a low income and are insured and you get a refund, you still have to pay $ 10-25 upfront and if you aren’t insured you can’t get a reimbursement from the insurance company,” he said . “In a state like Georgia, where we unfortunately still have a very high noninsurance rate compared to the rest of the country, this is a significant barrier, especially for those populations who have low incomes and are more likely to do these front-line jobs . “And service occupations and other and other areas where they are at higher risk for potential exposure.”
Georgia has one of the highest rates of uninsured residents in the country. In 2019, 13.4% of Georgians were not privately or publicly insured, according to U.S. census data, compared with 9.2% of Americans.
In rural parts of the state, where much of the health infrastructure has disappeared and residents may have to travel long distances to get medical care, the barriers can be even higher, Heiman said.
“I think a better plan would be to create a mechanism where tests can be used directly on the people in their homes,” Heiman said. “Access to some of these clinics is still significant in low-income urban and rural communities.
“It is a sad situation that two years after the pandemic we still have not figured out how to make testing easily available and affordable for everyone in this country, that we have not found a way to ensure that every person in the country can” has access to masks when they need them and there are still communities across the country where access to vaccines is still a challenge, “Heiman added.
Other public health experts have come to the same conclusion, pointing to European countries where tests are free or cost the equivalent of a few dollars and can be mailed to you.
White House press secretary Jen Psaki was dismissed as frivolous and frivolous by health experts when she dismissed a question about why the U.S. cannot pursue similar policies.
Politico said White House officials chose to run the plan through private insurance companies after sending free tests to all Americans would be too expensive and inefficient as many tests would likely go unused.
Dr. Ashley Register, a family doctor in Cairo, said that COVID-19 cases have luckily declined recently in his forest near the Florida state line, but he is still ordering many COVID-19 tests, as well as tests for other respiratory diseases, when sick patients arrive .
“All doctors offer it, several drug stores,” he said. “I don’t think there is a shortage at the moment, certainly there have been times when it was. Admittedly, when you come to us there is a cost and the urgent care, the pharmacies, is not free, so it will be interesting. “
Register said he’d love to see home tests become more available, but he’s skeptical that some in his community who distrust medical advice will go out of their way to pick them up.
“In Grady County 65% won’t even get a free vaccine,” he said. “They won’t even do that if it’s free.”