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Saturday, January 22nd, 2022

More than 40 Congressional lawmakers urge presidential action to expand equitable access to COVID-19 rapid testing

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In a letter to President Joe Biden this week, a collection of more than 40 sitting members of Congress led by U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT) and U.S. Rep. Adam Schiff (D-CA) urged administration action to expand access for and increase the supply of COVID-19 rapid tests.

Demanding more comprehensive and equitable access, they also pushed for removing financial and logistical barriers that have impeded access throughout the pandemic. With a new phase of that pandemic underway, they argued that convenient, free and accessible testing remains one of the most effective tools at the federal government’s disposal.

“The rapid spread of the Omicron variant over the past weeks suggests that Americans are in a dramatically more vulnerable position than we had anticipated being just last month,” the members wrote. “There is no time to waste, and widespread and affordable access to rapid tests will be an integral part of our country’s public health response to the Omicron variant and through the duration of the pandemic.”

Omicron now accounts for 95 percent of new cases, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

While they nodded to Biden’s plans to purchase 500 million antigen rapid COVID-19 tests, they added that the realities of omicron’s spread mean even that is no longer enough. Instead, they want enough tests manufactured that every American could take at least one rapid test each week to promote regular surveillance testing – a concept that would require around 2.3 billion tests per month. They also seek free home test delivery through the web, a national hotline number, and more.

Tests themselves, the lawmakers argued, should be made free through pharmacies, grocery stores, post offices, and other public locations to increase ease of acquisition. Further, they called for revised guidance on private health plans pertaining to COVID-19 testing. Latest requirements make insurers reimburse individuals for at-home tests, but given that these tests can cost between $14 and $34, and reimbursements only come following a time-consuming process, the lawmakers noted that this in and of itself might dissuade those struggling financially from pursuing these tests.

“[A]s the Omicron variant spreads and we enter an ominous and unprecedented next phase of this pandemic, it is critical that we ensure these efforts meet the severity of the moment,” the lawmakers wrote. “We strongly encourage you to take additional, immediate steps to eliminate existing barriers to COVID-19 rapid tests and ensure robust access to free over-the-counter rapid tests throughout the country for the duration of the pandemic.